Does White Blood Cells in Urine Mean Cancer?

There have been cases of bladder cancer in which the urine samples of the patients showed white blood cells.
HealthHearty Staff
Last Updated: Feb 26, 2018
First of all, white blood cells (WBCs) in urine is not normal. WBCs form an integral part of the blood and so their presence is indicating that a very small amount of blood has mixed with urine. Blood coming in contact with urine is abnormal, except during menstruation. In case, menstruation is not the cause, white blood cells in urine is suggesting something else. Chances are less and in most cases, it is indicating towards some sort of infection in the urinary tract.

White Blood Cells in Urine
WBCs in urine is hinting something wrong with the urinary system. Vaginal secretions mixing with urine may also lead to high white blood cell count. It can suggest kidney problems and even tumors in the bladders. It is elaborated below:

Cancer
Malignant tumor developing the bladder or the kidneys may cause WBCs to appear in the urine. There have been instances where in people diagnosed with bladder cancer had WBCs in urine. Presence of WBCs and even RBCs (red blood cells) in urine can be one of the symptoms of bladder. Bladder cancer is typically marked by traces of blood (WBCs and/or RBCs) in urine. Other than abnormalities in urine, the person may also experience painful urination and urge to urinate frequently. A point to note that WBCs present in urine is not a diagnostic symptom and further tests are mandatory to confirm urologic cancer.

Urinary Tract Infection (UTI)
With the onset of any type of infection, be it viral or bacterial, the body responds by increasing the white blood cell count. Now, why does this happen? WBCs are considered to be the soldiers of our body, the army of the immune system that protects the body against infections. The intention behind raising WBC count is to combat the infection successfully. So, when an infection invades the urinary tract, WBC count in that part of the body increases. In such circumstances, there is a high possibility that white blood cells will come in contact with the urine. UTI is caused by bacteria and so the body's defense mechanism leaps (WBCs) into action to thwart out the infection. In most cases, it is the infection of the bladder (cystitis) that causes abdominal pain and burning sensation while urinating. Interstitial cystitis (long-standing inflammation of the bladder) can also trigger urinary abnormalities in the form of WBCs in urine.

Kidney Damage
When the kidneys are not functioning in a proper way, urinalysis may reveal white blood cells in urine. Kidney damage from trauma or a kidney infection can reduce their capability to work correctly. As a result, a small amount of blood may combine with urine. Thus, renal dysfunction may be one of the causes of white and red blood cells in urine.

Points to Ponder

Simply on the basis of WBCs in urine, one cannot diagnose presence of kidney, prostate or bladder cancers. Additional tests such as cystoscopy will have to be conducted to look for cancerous lesions in the bladder. A biopsy in which a small tissue of the bladder wall is taken out and is then examined under microscope for malignant tumor growth. Elderly people (over 40 years of age) showing white blood cells in urine must consult a specialist and undergo cystoscopy to rule out cancer. Older people seem to be more prone to getting diagnosed with worrisome causes of WBCs in urine. Hence, elderly should not delay or ignore to undergo additional tests.

As mere presence of WBCs in urine is not a diagnostic test for cancer, the answer to the question 'does white blood cells in urine mean cancer' can be either yes or no depending upon the results of cystoscopy. In case, cystoscopy and biopsy does not detect any cancerous growth in the bladder or kidneys, then there is absolutely no need to worry and is indicating a UTI that resolves with a 3 or 10 day antibiotic course. However, if the results are positive, treatment should be started immediately to prevent progression of cancer to the advanced stage.