November is Men’s Health Awareness Month, and Mr Hamid Abboudi, Consultant Urologist at New Victoria Hospital, talks about haematuria and why you should always seek medical advice if you see blood in the urine. It can occur in both men and women of all ages, but it is often a more alarming symptom for men as it can be the first sign of prostate cancer. The most common causes are not serious but it is an important symptom that you should never ignore – even if it happens just once.
What causes blood in the urine?
Haematuria – the medical term for blood in the urine - has many different causes. These include non-cancerous causes, such as:
- urine infections
- certain foods
- kidney stones and inflammation in the kidneys
However, blood in the urine can be the first sign of prostate, bladder or kidney cancer. These are common cancers. Prostate cancer only affects men, with over 45,000 men diagnosed each year. Bladder and kidney cancer affect both men and women. 8,000 people a year are diagnosed with bladder cancer and 10,000 people a year with kidney cancer. The earlier these cancers are detected, the greater the chances of successful treatment and blood in the urine may be the first sign.
Types of haematuria
Sometimes blood in the urine can be seen with the naked eye - this is called visible haematuria. Sometimes blood can only be detected when your doctor or nurse performs a ‘dipstick test’. This is called non-visible haematuria. Neither should ever be ignored. Even a small amount of bleeding, which comes and goes, can be a sign of cancer.
What symptoms should you be looking out for?
Visible or non-visible blood in the urine can occur with other symptoms, which can help indicate the underlying cause.
Blood in the urine accompanied by a burning sensation, frequently passing urine or a high temperature, can be a sign of infection, and your doctor will often send away your urine sample to the laboratory to confirm this. Sometimes you might feel a severe pain in the back or sides that comes and goes.
That can be a sign of kidney stones. If you experience high blood pressure, it could be a sign of kidney inflammation.
Prostate, bladder and kidney cancers typically do not have other symptoms
Unfortunately, haematuria is often the only symptom of urological cancers. This is why it can be difficult to detect them. While it can be tempting to self-diagnose the cause, it could still be cancer and so must be checked by a doctor.
A consultation with a specialist and accurate medical examinations are the only way to detect the real cause of your symptoms.
What can I expect from a Consultation with a Urologist?
If you notice blood in the urine or have any concerns about your urological health, a Urologist can help.
At your first appointment, they will perform a full assessment including:
- a history of your symptoms
- a physical examination, including of your prostate (in men)
- a urine sample to confirm the presence of blood and rule out infection
- a scan of your kidneys, usually a CT scan
- a telescopic examination of the bladder called a ‘cystoscopy’. This is performed under local anaesthetic in under 5 minutes. It is a very safe and accurate way of detecting bladder cancer.
What are the risk factors for cancers causing blood in the urine?
Each cancer has a slightly different list of risk factors that can increase your chances of developing them.
Bladder cancer: smoking, chemical exposure at work, typically from chemical dyes, recurrent or long-lasting urine infections, family history – rarely bladder cancer can be caused by an inherited faulty gene
Kidney cancer: smoking, being overweight, high blood pressure, other kidney disorders, particularly those requiring dialysis
Prostate cancer: increasing age, ethnicity – the risk is highest if you are black, family history – particularly if you have a father or brother with prostate cancer, especially if below the age of 60
Many of these risk factors can be avoided, therefore reducing your risk of cancer.
Quitting smoking, controlling your weight and blood pressure is a good place to start.
Once you have reduced your risk factors, looking out for early symptoms like blood in the urine increases your chances of catching a cancer early, making it much more treatable.
There are more than 20 different causes for blood in the urine.
Around 50% of people with visible and 10% of people with non-visible blood in the urine will have an underlying cause identified.
if you have blood in your urine, even if it’s just once, don’t just ignore it or think it’s something you’ve eaten and will go away or even try to self-medicate.
The chances are it isn’t cancer, but it could be a sign of something else that needs treatment. If it is cancer, the sooner it is diagnosed, the greater the chances of successful treatment. That’s why it’s essential to pay attention to anything unusual happening to your body and always look before you flush!
If you would like to book an appointment with our Consultant Urologists, please call us on 020 8949 9020 or: