I See Blood in My Urine, Could It Be Bladder Cancer?

Did you know men are about 3 to 4 times more likely to get bladder cancer during their lifetime than women? According to the American Cancer Society, in 2017 alone about 79,030 new cases of bladder cancer was reported and about 60,490 of those were men. Although bladder cancer is found twice as often in Caucasians, African American men and women actually have the lowest survival rate.

The sight of blood in your urine – the toilet water turned a shade of red – is understandably an alarming one. The good news is that it’s usually not serious. In fact, even something as innocent as exercise can cause it. But there’s a possibility it may also be a symptom of a more serious problem such as cancer, so you should always see a doctor about it.

What is blood in the urine?

Red blood cells (RBCs) in the urine (called hematuria) can be hard to ignore when they turn your toilet bowl pink, bright red, or the color of cola. Intermittent spots of blood in the water may be also be seen. This overt form of blood in the urine is called “gross” or “frank” hematuria. It doesn’t take much blood – or about a fifth of a teaspoon – to turn a half-quart of urine an obvious shade of red.

In other cases, the presence of blood may be so minute that it’s not visible to the eye. This is called microscopic hematuria, and doctors usually detect it during a routine urine test. Sometimes, what you assume to be blood in the urine may be something else altogether: women may mistake menstrual blood for blood originating in the urine; men may confuse blood in the urine with blood in an ejaculation (which usually suggests a prostate problem).

What causes it?

Blood in the urine can have a variety of causes. As a rule, blood visible to the eye is caused by a problem in the lower urinary tract (ureter, bladder, or urethra), and microscopic blood in the urine usually originates in the upper tract (kidneys).

Here’s a list of possible causes:

Kidney and urinary tract problems

  • Kidney stones
  • Urinary tract infection (cystitis) (Along with kidney stones, UTIs are the most common cause of blood in the urine of people under 40)
  • Bladder infection
  • Inflammation of the bladder, urethra, or kidney (called glomerulonephritis)
  • Cancer of the bladder, kidney, or prostate
  • Injury to the upper or lower urinary tract
  • Recent urinary tract procedure, such as catheterization, circumcision, surgery, or kidney biopsy
  • Polycystic kidney disease
  • Prostate gland enlargement
  • Kidney failure (acute or chronic)
  • Kidney disease following strep throat (post-streptococcal glomerulonephritis) a common cause of blood in the urine in children
  • Medications such as antibiotics (rifampin), analgesics (aspirin), phenytoin, quinine, and blood-thinning drugs like warfarin