Vickie Dunlevy survived bladder cancer in 2020 and is now back on her paddle board. "I love to stay active," she said.

Dell Medical School trying to end desert in Austin bladder cancer care

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

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

After years of being on antibiotics on and off, and going to both a urologist and her primary care doctor 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 had a weird pain sometimes when she would urinate. A urinalysis revealed nothing. She was sent to a gynecologist, thinking it might be her uterus, but still nothing.

More urological care:‘Teach one, reach many.’ Austin nonprofit fights disease by training urologists around the world

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

“Women don’t get cancer of the bladder,” she remembers 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, both were diagnosed with bladder cancer. They and their partners participated in the 2022 Walk to End Bladder Cancer 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, the American Cancer Society estimates.

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

Typical bladder cancer symptoms include:

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

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

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