Non-visible haematuria (NVH) is the presence of three or more red blood cells (RBCs) per high-power microscope field on a midstream, clean-catch urine sample. However, fewer RBCs from just one specimen should not exclude patients with risk for malignancy from a complete evaluation, because intermittent bleeding may occur.
A positive dipstick result for blood does not confirm NVH, but should prompt further investigation with microscopy.
Although less commonly associated with malignancy than visible haematuria, NVH may signal cancer. However, about half of cases of NVH are idiopathic. AUA: diagnosis, evaluation and follow-up of asymptomatic microhematuria (AMH) in adults external link opens in a new window The prevalence of NVH in the population varies from 2.4% to 31.1%, with higher rates in men older than 60 years and men who are current or past smokers.
The most important initial diagnostic step is a detailed history, with the aim of identifying risk factors for malignancy. History may also indicate less serious causes (e.g., recent exercise or sexual activity, urinary tract infection, and menstruation).
Cancer risk factors
The risk of urinary tract malignancy increases with age >35 years, tobacco use, previous radiation exposure, and certain occupational exposures (dyes, benzenes, aromatic amines) and medications such as phenacetin (available only in Japan), cyclophosphamide, and aristolochic acid in some herbal weight loss preparations). Asymptomatic NVH is more likely to be associated with urinary tract malignancy in men. Obesity and hypertension are risk factors for renal cell carcinoma. If malignancy is suspected, based on a high-risk profile, then evaluation of the entire urinary tract, including upper tract imaging and cystoscopy for the lower tract, is required. By contrast, the work-up of low-risk patients can be more focused towards the suspected cause without a complete urinary tract survey. The UK National Institute for Health and Care Excellence recommends that people ≥60 years should be referred for an appointment within 2 weeks using a suspected cancer pathway referral for bladder cancer if they have unexplained NVH and either dysuria or a raised white cell count on a blood test.
Considering the source of bleeding by anatomical site offers an organised approach. The upper urinary tract includes the kidneys (glomerular or non-glomerular) and ureters, with remaining structures in the lower urinary tract. These dividing lines are useful to apply during the history and physical examination, as well as when ordering diagnostic tests, because no one diagnostic test evaluates the urinary tract completely.
Diagnostic testing must first confirm the presence of NVH. Secondly, testing may distinguish an upper tract glomerular source from other causes, allowing a more refined work-up, but upper and lower tract diagnostic tests (imaging and cystoscopy) remain necessary in all patients with risk factors for urinary tract malignancy. Using urinary tumour markers for diagnosing urinary tract cancer has not demonstrated adequate specificity for reliable diagnosis in research trials. However, the markers may play a role in assessing treatment efficacy and in identifying recurrences after treatment.
The most often identified cancer in patients with NVH is bladder transitional cell carcinoma. The US Preventive Services Task Force estimates a positive predictive value of 5% to 8% for NVH indicating bladder cancer and recommends against routine screening. Evidence B
- Bladder stone
- Renal cell carcinoma
- Transitional cell carcinoma (kidney or ureter)
- Simple renal cyst
- Polycystic kidney disease
- Medullary sponge kidney
- Atrophic kidney
- Calyceal diverticulum
- Renal infarction
- Renal vein thrombosis
- Arteriovenous malformations
- Papillary necrosis
- Sickle cell disease
- Ureteropelvic junction obstruction
- Vesicoureteral reflux
- IgA nephropathy
- Thin glomerular basement membrane disease
- Acute glomerulonephritis
- Lupus nephritis
- Hereditary nephritis (Alport's syndrome)
- Transitional cell carcinoma (bladder)
- Cystitis (interstitial)
- Cystitis (radiation-induced)
- Cystitis (eosinophilic)
- Bladder diverticulum
- Bladder papilloma
- Prostate cancer
- Prostate stone
- Bladder neck contracture
- Urethral stricture
- Penile cancer
- Multiple myeloma
- Urinary tract tuberculosis
Department of Family and Community Medicine
Texas Tech University Health Sciences Center at the Permian Basin
TJB declares that he has no competing interests.
Regional Chief Medical Informatics Officer
Medical Director Haven Health Clinics
Department of Family Medicine
Texas Tech University Health Sciences Center
BAL declares that she has no competing interests.
Department of Family Medicine
University of Texas Health Science Center
RT declares that he has no competing interests.
Consultant Urological Surgeon
Bart's and The London NHS Trust
JM declares that he has no competing interests.
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