Dealing with UTIs, or urinary tract infections, is not for the weak. Symptoms can range from manageable to debilitating, but no matter what, it can really put a wrench in your daily schedule.

While most of us will toss back some cranberry pills, antibiotics and call it a day, some UTIs can be indicative of a larger problem. Many experience chronic infections, but can recurrent UTIs also be a sign of cancer? Let’s break down the science.

What Are UTIs?

A urinary tract infection is caused by a bacteria entering the urinary tract and multiplying. This infection most commonly happens during intercourse, though certain kinds of birth control, having a weakened immune system or using a catheter can be causes as well.

Though non life-threatening and very common, symptoms of a UTI can still be worrisome. You may experience a frequent and incessant urge to pee when suffering with a UTI, accompanied by a burning sensation. The urine could also be cloudy or strong smelling.

Typically, your healthcare provider will prescribe antibiotics to rid your body of the infection. They’ll also steer you towards avoiding caffeine and alcohol, staying hydrated instead with water and pure cranberry juice. When it comes to avoiding infection, peeing after intercourse, wearing cotton underwear, wiping from front to back and avoiding irritating feminine products can do wonders to lower your chances.

Can Recurrent UTIs Be a Sign of Cancer?

Millions suffer with UTIs every year, and it’s likely that you’ll get more than one in your lifetime. But just because they’re common doesn’t mean you should avoid suspicion of a larger problem, especially if they’re chronic.

Frequent UTIs being a sign of cancer is a common worry due to the fact that UTI symptoms and bladder cancer can be very similar. Both may involve pain while urinating, a feeling of urgency and the presence of white or red blood cells in the urine. With approximately 73,000 cases diagnosed annually, bladder cancer is the sixth most common cancer in the United States, occurring when the cells that make up the bladder lining begin to grow abnormally. Because of the similarities in symptoms, bladder cancer is typically diagnosed through cystoscopy. 

While most people who get frequent UTIs won’t necessarily develop bladder cancer, there are higher reported rates of bladder cancer among patients who suffer from chronic UTIs. The overlap is due to the inflammation caused by multiple UTIs, causing damage to the protective layer of cells lining the bladder. Thus, each new generation of cells risk mutations to arise that could potentially lead to bladder cancer. People already diagnosed with bladder cancer also tend to have more UTIs. 

Talk To Your Healthcare Provider

It’s always important not to panic over the hypothetical. However, it’s also crucial not to ignore warning signs and address things sooner rather than later. If you’re questioning whether or not your recurrent UTIs can be a sign of cancer, check in with your healthcare provider. It’s always better to be safe than sorry.