Dell Medical School tries to end the desert in bladder cancer care in Austin


Dorothy De La Garza had frequent urinary tract infections. Then she was told she had “an overactive bladder”.

“Everyone assumes a woman runs away because she’s old,” the 78-year-old from Austin said.

After years of taking intermittent antibiotics and seeing a urologist and her GP for the same symptoms, De La Garza was diagnosed with bladder cancer in 2016.

“Bladder cancer is sneaky,” she said.

Two years ago, Vickie Dunlevy sometimes had strange pains when she urinated. A urinalysis revealed nothing. She was sent to a gynecologist, thinking it might be her uterus, but still nothing.

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Finally, blood appeared in her urine and she was sent to a urogynecologist, who ordered a CT scan and a cystoscopy (an endoscope that goes into the bladder).

“Women don’t get bladder cancer,” she recalled thinking, “It’s an old man’s smoker’s disease.”

Dunlevy, who is now 68, was diagnosed with bladder cancer in November 2020.

Dorothy De La Garza, middle left, and Vickie Dunlevy, middle right, have both been diagnosed with bladder cancer.  They and their partners participated in the Walk to End Bladder Cancer 2022 fundraiser in May.

A forgotten cancer

More than 81,000 people will be diagnosed with bladder cancer this year and 17,000 will die from it, estimates the American Cancer Society.

Bladder cancer is the sixth most common cancer in the United States.

Typical symptoms of bladder cancer include:

  • Blood in the urine
  • Having to urinate frequently
  • Pain when urinating
  • Back ache
  • Pelvic pain

While it’s true that about three-quarters of cases occur in men, it’s a stereotype that women don’t get bladder cancer, said Dr. Aaron Laviana, assistant professor and Livestrong member. Cancer Institutes at the University of Texas Dell Medical School. Often women are misdiagnosed as having a urinary tract infection or a reproductive problem.


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