Ureter cancer originates in the ureters, the tubes that connect the kidneys to the bladder.
Considered rare, ureteral cancer is more likely to affect older adults, especially those who previously had bladder cancer. Since these two types of cancer are similar in nature, patients are often evaluated for bladder cancer after being diagnosed with ureter cancer.
Treatment will depend on whether or not abnormal tissues are limited to the affected ureter or if other urinary structures are also affected.
Other than resulting from abnormal DNA mutations, there is no clear cause of ureter cancer. Risk factors associated with the disease include age. Most patients diagnosed with the condition are 70 and over. Additionally, patients with a previous history of bladder and/or kidney cancer tend to be more susceptible to developing ureter cancer. The regular use of tobacco products can also increase cancer risk.
Painful urination or blood in urine are among the most common symptoms associated with ureter cancer. Depending on how a ureter is affected, symptoms may also include general fatigue, losing weight for no apparent reason, and pain that’s felt in the back area that’s not related to another spine-related problem.
How Is Ureter Cancer Diagnosed?
After a physical exam, a doctor may refer a patient to a urologist if some type of urinary system cancer is suspected. Testing usually includes blood and urine tests. A urine cytology test may be done to identify any abnormal cells in urine. A visual examination is done with a ureteroscopy, which involves the insertion of lighted tube with a lens attached into the urethra to view the bladder and the adjacent ureters. Tissue samples (biopsy) can also be collected with a ureteroscopy to perform a laboratory analysis to positively confirm cancer. A similar scope procedure called a cystoscopy may be done to examine the bladder for signs of cancer.
Surgery is the treatment that’s most often recommended for ureter cancer. If cancer is in an early stage, it may only be necessary to remove part of the affected ureter. If the disease is in an advanced stage, surgery may include removal of the affected ureter, its attached kidney (nephroureterectomy), and part of the adjacent bladder. Chemotherapy is an oral or IV drug treatment that’s sometimes done prior to surgery in an attempt to shrink the tumor. It can also be a follow-up treatment after surgery. In some situations, chemotherapy is the only treatment if it’s determined that surgery is too risky.
If ureteral cancer is detected early, most patients respond well to treatment. Painful urination is a common symptom of many different urinary problems including cancer, as is blood in urine (hematuria). For this reason, it’s best to be proactive and see a urologist if urination habits suddenly change. Even when treatment for ureter cancer is successful, follow-up examinations are usually recommended to look for possible signs of recurrence or other types of urinary cancer, especially bladder cancer since the two conditions are similar and sometimes related.