Cancer Symptom Spotlight: A Frequent Urge to Pee

When a Constant Need to Pee May be a Sign of Cancer

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Can a frequent to to pee be a symptom of cancer?. Photo by Brook Rieman/Moment/Getty Images

Having a frequent urge to pee, even when you just finished paying a visit to the bathroom, is medically referred to as frequent urination or urinary frequency.

Most people are able to "hold it in" and the average person empties their bladder anywhere from four to eight times a day. If you have to go to the bathroom more than eight times a day, it may mean that you are drinking too much fluids or it may be an indication of a bigger medical problem.

Diagnosing Frequent Urination

A frequent urge to pee is usually a symptom of many different conditions, it can also be a side effect of certain conditions. Your doctor will assess other symptoms that you may be feeling to better pinpoint the cause. After performing a physical exam, your doctor may ask you the following questions:

  • Are you on any medications?
  • Do you have the problem only during the day or also at night?
  • Are you drinking more fluids than normal for you?
  • Is your pee any darker or lighter than normal?
  • Do you drink alcohol or caffeinated beverages?
  • Are you experiencing any other symptoms?

Additional Symptoms You May Have

Additional symptoms such as fever, back pain, vomiting, chills, increased appetite or thirst, fatigue, bloody or cloudy urine, or a discharge from the penis or vagina should all be taken very seriously. Make sure to let your doctor know if you have any of these associated symptoms as it may help her narrow down the possible causes.

Possible Causes of a Frequent Need to Pee

The following is a list of possible causes (and additional symptoms) of frequent urination, there may also be other causes and conditions not listed below:

  • Bladder or urinary Tract Infection (UTI). Sometimes a bladder infection (urinary tract infection) may declare its presence only with an increased need to pee. Other times, people may have a fever and pain or discomfort in the lower abdomen. The presence of small amounts of blood in the urine may also be an indication. UTI's are much more common in women than in men due to the short length of the urethra (passageway from the bladder to the outside of the body) allowing bacteria to migrate more easily into the bladder,
  • Using diuretics. Some medications used to treat high blood pressure or fluid build up (diuretics) can flush excess fluid from the body at a quicker rate, causing frequent urination. Note that caffeinated beverages such as coffee also act as diuretics in the body.
  • Overactive bladder. With an overactive bladder, having a frequent need to pee is not a symptom of a problem, it is the problem. Involuntary bladder contractions make you feel like you have to go immediately, even if you just went. You may be waking up once or more during the night to use the bathroom as well
  • Diabetes. Passing an abnormally large amount of urine is often an early symptom of both type I and type II diabetes (excessive peeing happens in order for the body to try and rid itself of unused glucose).
  • Ovarian cancer. A frequent need to urinate is one of the few early symptoms of ovarian cancer, a cancer called the silent killer due to a lack of symptoms in the early stages. If you have the urge to urinate and do not actually go or you are urinating more often than usual, even when you haven't increased your fluid intake, then you should definitely be evaluated by a doctor (who will likely order a urinalysis to check for abnormalities).
  • Pregnancy. Frequent urination is common in pregnancy. In the early stages of pregnancy, this increased urination is related to an increase in blood volume being filtered through the kidneys. Later on in pregnancy, the pressure of the baby against the bladder almost always increases urinary frequency to some degree.
  • Prostate issues. An enlarged prostate and (other prostate problems) can block the flow of urine since it may press against the urethra (the tube that carries pee out of the body). This can cause the bladder to contract even when it contains small amounts of urine, making you feel like you constantly have to pee.
  • Interstial cystitis. Pain during sexual intercourse or pain in the bladder or pelvic region may accompany a persistent, frequent need to pee. Severe interstitial cystitis may have you urinating as many as 60 times a day.
  • Neurological conditions. Damage to nerves that supply the bladder, such as that which occurs with a stroke, Parkinson's disease, and other neurological disorders, can lead to problems with bladder function, including frequent and sudden urges to urinate.
  • Chemotherapy. Having a strong urge to pee is a side effect of chemotherapy. You may also have urine that is cloudy or a different color (such as orange, red, green, or dark yellow), accompanied by a strong smell. Sometimes having trouble urinating is another side effect.
  • Bladder cancer. Increased urination can be a sign of bladder cancer, but more commonly is heralded by painless blood in the urine. If you note any blood in urine that is unexplained, make sure to talk to your doctor.

As noted in these descriptions, in addition to an increased frequency of urination, many of the associated symptoms mentioned her could be due to a wide range of conditions. There are also many less common conditions not mentioned here which can cause people to pee more often than usual.

Not only is it important to see your doctor in order to determine a reason for your symptoms, but having to pee frequently can interfere in your life in many ways. If you notice you are urinating more often—even if it would be normal for one person but is a change for you—make an appointment to see your doctor.

Treatment for Frequent Urination

Addressing the underlying problem that is causing frequent urination is the usual method of treating frequent urination. This means that for conditions such as diabetes, keeping blood sugar levels under control is the treatment that would normally be advised by doctors. For an overactive bladder, treatment may include behavioral therapies, such as bladder retraining, diet modification, monitoring of fluid intake and kegel exercises to strengthen the muscles around the bladder and urethra. Other forms of treatment may include medication, injections, lifestyle changes and/or surgery.


U.S. National Library of Medicine. Medline Plus. Bladder Cancer. Updated 03/16/16.

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