7 Silent Signs of Bladder Cancer You Might Be Ignoring

Updated: Mar. 30, 2021

Bladder cancer usually affects more men than women, and it often develops in people over the age of 55. No matter your age though, you should know the symptoms of bladder cancer.

Know the bladder cancer risk factors and symptoms

The most common symptom of bladder cancer is blood in the urine, but there are other symptoms you need to look out for if you think you are at risk for this type of cancer. (Also keep in mind that you can have blood in your urine for many reasons—like a urinary tract infection—that has nothing to do with cancer.) People who are over 55, smokers, and people who have a family history of bladder cancer have a higher risk, according to the American Cancer Society (ACS). New cases of bladder cancer have been declining in recent years, according to the ACS. However, an estimated 62,000 men and 19,000 women will be diagnosed with bladder cancer in 2020. Keep an eye out for these silent signs of bladder cancer you might be ignoring.

person holding urine sample
iStock/Christine Glade

You notice blood or blood clots in your urine

Blood in the urine is the most common sign of bladder cancer, says Gary D. Steinberg, MD, professor of surgery and director of urologic oncology at the University of Chicago. “That blood in the urine can either be microscopic or gross where people can actually see it,” he said. The blood doesn’t always have to look bright red. Sometimes, it looks brown like the color of cola. If you notice blood in your urine, see a doctor right away. Here are the cancer warning signs you should never ignore.

person grabbing toilet paper

You feel pain or a burning sensation when urinating

Of course, if the blood in your urine is microscopic, then you won’t be able to see it, which is why it’s important to pay attention to other symptoms. For example, pain or a burning sensation during urination can be an indicator of bladder cancer (and other conditions too). “Many patients, especially as they get older, will have change in their urination,” Dr. Steinberg says, but those changes are usually gradual. More acute urination changes should be treated by a doctor. These are the reassuring things doctors wish you knew about cancer. 

person holding hands over butt

You feel like you have to urinate frequently, but when you sit down, very little comes out

You may feel like a brick is sitting on your bladder, but when you finally reach the bathroom, very little comes out. Or maybe you’re taking more trips to the bathroom, even getting up several times in the middle of the night. If either of these scenarios is unusual for you, schedule an appointment with your physician. according to the Urology Care Foundation. It may be just a urinary tract infection (UTI), but if you’re over the age of 55, then these changes in your urinary symptoms may be signs of bladder cancer.


Your UTIs aren’t going away

Most UTIs are not bladder cancer, Dr. Steinberg says, but in women, bladder cancer can be mistaken for a UTI. If you’ve been treated for a UTI with antibiotics and the symptoms persist for weeks after you’ve finished treatment, bladder cancer could be the real culprit. Dr. Steinberg, who is the chairperson of the scientific advisory board of the Bladder Cancer Advocacy Network, says that more women actually die of bladder cancer than of cervical cancer. Though bladder cancer affects men more frequently, women are still at risk. “We need to start talking about bladder cancer,” Steinberg says. “We need to make sure people are aware of it.” (Here are the cancer symptoms women commonly ignore.)

woman holding stomach

Pain in the pelvis or lower back

The American Cancer Society lists pelvic or lower back pain as a symptom of more advanced bladder cancer that may have even already spread to other parts of the body. Regardless of whether it has spread or not, the pain can range from uncomfortable to unbearable. This can be a symptom in a number of common diseases and ailments, however, so talk to your doctor if you are experiencing this type of pain, especially if it coincides with other symptoms. (Here are the cancer myths you need to stop believing.)

Male adult looking tired and stressed
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Feeling weak or fatigued

Feeling a lack of energy is common. However, as cancer progresses, you may find yourself starting to feel more serious fatigue. It’s not a normal type of tiredness—you might feel a complete lack of energy and no matter how much rest you get, it just doesn’t improve. The American Cancer Society calls it cancer-related fatigue to distinguish it from everyday fatigue. It can disrupt your work or relationships, or other responsibilities. Fatigue can signal a number of different issues, but if you notice it along with any of the above symptoms, it could be a reason to see your doctor. (These are the things cancer doctors do to prevent cancer.)

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Loss of appetite and unintentional weight loss

Most people know that loss of appetite is a hallmark side effect of chemotherapy treatments, but did you know that cancer itself can also make you lose your appetite? The Cancer Treatment Centers of America lists the symptom as common among cancer patients; it is especially severe with cancers of the gastrointestinal tract, but can be a symptom of any type of cancer. Cancer can sometimes cause a metabolic change in the body that results in this loss of appetite. It can often go hand in hand with cancer-related fatigue—when you’re tired, you don’t eat as much and when you haven’t eaten, you become tired. (Check out these hopeful cancer statistics that everyone should know.)