Urinary Tract Cancer

The urethra is the tube in your body that is connected to your bladder. Its job is to remove urine from the bladder out of the body. Urethral cancer is a cancer of the urethra. It starts when cells start to grow out of control and form a tumor. There are different types of urethral cancer which are named for the type of cells that are cancerous.

They are:

  • Squamous cell.
  • Transitional cell.
  • Adenocarcinoma.

Cancer that has spread from the urethra to some other part of the body is called metastatic cancer.

Urinary tract cancers are common and comprise a gamut of lesions ranging from small benign tumors to aggressive neoplasms with high mortality. The predominant urinary tract malignancy is bladder cancer. The clinical challenge is early detection and adequate follow-up because recurrence is high and delayed diagnosis is associated with poor prognosis.

Primary care physicians form a key part of the management apparatus for these patients and may be responsible for ensuring adequate ongoing surveillance. This article aims to outline the evaluation of patients in whom urinary tract cancer is suspected and briefly review the general principles of treatment.

Symptoms of Urinary Tract Cancer

There may be no signs or symptoms in the early stages of upper tract cancer. Symptoms can arise as the tumor grows and may include any of the following:

  • Blood in the urine
  • A pain in the back that doesn’t go away
  • Extreme tiredness
  • Weight loss with no known reason
  • Painful or frequent urination

Risk factors for upper tract cancer include:


  • A previous diagnosis of bladder cancer: Upper tract cancer is usually linked to bladder cancer.
  • Gender: Men are diagnosed with the disease twice as often as women.
  • Age: Most upper tract cancer patients are older than 70. It is extremely rare to have this condition below the age of 40, except when associated with certain genetic conditions.
  • Misusing certain pain medicines: This includes over-the-counter pain medicines for any extended period of time.
  • Industrial chemicals: The chemicals used to dye leather goods, textiles, plastic and rubber—called aromatic amines—have been linked to higher rates of both bladder and upper tract cancer. Workers in industries that use these chemicals are at higher risk for upper tract and bladder cancer.
  • Smoking cigarettes: Toxins from cigarettes come in contact with the lining of the kidney and the bladder, increasing the risk of developing cancer.
  • Genetic conditions: A hereditary condition called Lynch Syndrome may predispose certain patients towards upper tract cancer, as well as colon and endometrial cancer. Young patients (less than 45 years old) or those with multiple tumors should be screened for this condition.

Treatment Options

Often, these treatments are used:

  • Surgery: removal of all or part of the cancer.
  • Radiation Therapy: the use of high energy x-rays to kill cancer cells.
  • Chemotherapy: the use of medications to kill cancer cells.
  • Active Surveillance: in some cases, your provider will decide that treatment is not needed right away but will watch to see how the cancer grows.