When Frances Dobrowolski noticed blood in her urine in August 2019, she didn’t think much of it. But then it happened again, and since she was scheduled to see her GP in two weeks, she mentioned that strange fact. Her doctor immediately referred her to a urologist, and it proved life-saving for the 78-year-old retiree and grandma. When her urologist threaded a tube with a tiny video camera into her urethra and bladder (a cystoscopy), she immediately saw the cancerous tumours. Frances, who was able to watch the procedure on a screen, also saw the tumours—they were growing from her bladder walls into the bladder. “It was a lot of cancer,” she says.
Frances also learned that smoking could have been the cause. “I quit 13 years ago, but I smoked two packs a day for 40 years,” she says. “I thought that if I got anything, it would be lung cancer, but I got bladder cancer instead.”
Frances had surgery to remove the tumours within days, but on the follow-up test a few weeks later, more cancer showed up on the screen, so she had a second surgery. She also started a regimen of chemotherapy drug infusions, once a week for six weeks, into her bladder to kill the remaining tumour cells.
When her next checkup revealed another tumour, Frances needed more infusions. “But because I saw my doctor as soon as I spotted symptoms, she says, and because the tumours aren’t growing into my muscles, my prognosis is good. I try to stay optimistic.”
ABOUT 550,000 PEOPLE worldwide were diagnosed with bladder cancer in 2018. In the European Union about 120,000 people are diagnosed annually with bladder cancer, and about 40,000 people in the EU die from the disease every year.
Many bladder cancers, like Frances’, are highly treatable. The key to beating it is early detection— and that’s where things get tricky. Unlike prostate or breast cancers, there’s no test that can detect an elevated risk of bladder cancer, so patients have to spot the troubling signs themselves.
WHEN YOU QUIT DEVELOPING OR COMING BACK DECREASES. SMOKING, THE CHANCE OF BLADDER CANCERS
THE MOST TELLING sign of bladder cancer is the sudden appearance of blood in urine, a symptom called haematuria, which Frances had. The moment you see it, you should call your doctor right away, rather than waiting for it to disappear. Haematuria may not be accompanied by any pain, so some patients wait for it go away, losing precious time. In addition to blood in the urine, symptoms may include changes in urination, such as a burning sensation, pain, and increase in frequency and urgency.
These symptoms can be deceptive because people may attribute their onset to advancing age or an overactive bladder, and ignore them. And when they finally share their concerns with their general practitioners, the doctors sometimes mistake them for urinary tract infections (UTIs).
RISK FACTORS, GENDER & AGE
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