Evaluation of Blood in the Urine (Hematuria)

Speciman BottlesI recently had a long discussion with a diabetic patient about the drug Actos. This very effective and relatively safe diabetic drug has now been implicated as increasing the risk of bladder cancer. While the FDA has not removed the drug from the market, it has been removed from the market in Germany.  My patient wondered if he could continue using Actos but send his urine off for testing and evaluation regularly to detect any indication bladder cancer early. I said I preferred switching medications. 

Chance would have it that the April 11, 2013 edition of Journal Watch addressed the question indirectly.  They looked at whether or not it was safe to send urine off for cytology to look for cancerous cells in the evaluation of blood in the urine. Urine cytology, like the Pap smear, looks at cells in the urine from the bladder and tries to diagnose bladder abnormalities and cancers by identifying abnormal cells. The traditional evaluation of blood in the urine includes doing x-ray and imaging studies as well as performing an invasive procedure called a cystoscope (under anesthesia a fiber optic device is inserted into the bladder through the urethra and advanced into the upper collecting tracts.).

In a study performed in the United Kingdom at a teaching hospital, researchers reviewed the records of patients with blood in the urine. Sixty-five percent of the patients had visible bleeding while 35% had only microscopic bleeding. They all underwent imaging of the upper tract, cystoscopy and urine cytology.

A full evaluation of imaging, cystoscopy and cytology was performed on 2,507 patients. Fourteen percent of the patients were ultimately diagnosed with transitional cell cancers of the bladder. The sensitivity and specificity of abnormal cytology were 45% and 89% making cytology not “good enough” to serve as a first line test for patients with unexplained blood in the urine. More than half the patients with bladder cancers had negative cytology and about 105 of patients with negative cytology had bladder cancers.

The study supports the recommendations of the American Urologic Association’s guidelines that recommend against using urine cytology in the initial evaluation of patients with microhematuria.

Prostate Cancer Risk Can Be Predicted With a Single PSA Test

The highly acclaimed Institute of Medicine and now the U.S. Preventive Task Force have recommended against routine screening of asymptomatic men for prostate cancer. Now, a study presented by Christopher Weight, MD from the Mayo Clinic Department of Urology adds more information and confusion to the fire. Dr. Weight presented his data at a recent meeting of the American Urologic Association.

The Mayo Clinic followed men younger than 50 years old for 16.8 years.  They concluded that men at age 40 with a PSA value of less than 1ng/ml had a less than 1% chance of having prostate cancer at age 55. They had less than a 3% chance of having prostate cancer at age 60.  They concluded that men with a baseline PSA < 1% in their 40s appear to be able to safely avoid annual screening until age 55.  “Men with a baseline PSA greater than or equal to 1 have a substantial risk of subsequent biopsy and cancer diagnosis and should be followed annually.”

This is one of the first research studies to quantify the actual relationship of screening young asymptomatic individuals and the subsequent risk of developing the disease.  It is the type of research needed to help guide us to make safe and sane recommendations about the type of screening for prostate cancer and frequency of screening using blood tests, ultrasound and of course digital rectal examination to palpate the prostate. All the patients in the Mayo study received a PSA assessment, digital rectal exam and transurethral ultrasound of the prostate at study entry and biennially thereafter.

This study affirms the recommendation for performing a screening digital rectal exam on all men at age forty and subsequently. It begins to answer the question of who needs follow-up PSA testing and when.  However, more research is clearly needed.