Ureter cancer can be treated, and early detection is important.
The various types of cancer that can affect the urinary system are classified base on point of origin. When abnormal cells develop in the tubes that connect the kidneys to the bladder, it’s referred to as ureter cancer.
This type of cancer is rare and more likely to occur in older adults who’ve had bladder cancer.
Ureteral cancer is often treated surgically when it’s positively diagnosed by a urologist.
Ureter cancer begins where there is a DNA mutation that causes cells in the lining of one or both ureters to become abnormal. The cancerous cells may remain in the ureters or spread to nearby areas, such as the kidneys and bladder. Initial symptoms may include painful urination and blood in urine. Some patients may also notice:
Lower back or abdominal pain
Weight loss without a clear reason
Diagnosing Ureter Cancer
A urologist typically starts with a physical exam and discussion of symptoms experienced. Initial testing usually involves a urinalysis to look for abnormal cells. If cancer is suspected, a ureteroscopy may be done. This is a procedure performed with a lighted scope with a lens attached to it that’s inserted through the tube where urine exits the body (urethra). It will provide a detailed view of the ureters. A ureteroscope may also be used to take a tissue sample (biopsy). If ureter cancer is confirmed, patients are often evaluated for bladder cancer since both cancers sometimes occur at the same time.
Surgery is the most common treatment or ureter cancer. It usually involves complete removal of the affected ureter. If cancer is detected in an early stage, it may be possible to only remove part of a ureter. In advanced cases, it’s sometimes necessary to remove the affected ureter, the kidney it’s attached to, and part of the bladder.
Chemotherapy for Ureteral Cancer
Chemotherapy is a drug treatment that kills cancer cells with medication that can be administered as an oral pill or through an IV. It may be recommended as a treatment option prior to surgery to reduce the size of the tumor in a ureter. Some patients may have chemotherapy after surgery to ensure that cancer in all affected tissues has been destroyed. In the event a patient isn’t able to have surgery for health reasons, chemotherapy may be the sole treatment option.
Patients are typically evaluated periodically during the first year after surgery to look for signs of recurrence. Other parts of the urinary system will also be checked. Follow-up testing usually includes blood and urine tests. If anything out of the ordinary is discovered, another ureteroscopy may be done. Otherwise, most patients will likely see a urologist with less frequency if there are no further signs of cancer during follow-up evaluations.
As is the case with most forms of cancer, ureter cancer isn’t completely preventable. What you can do, however, is get regular exams if you are at risk for developing this type of cancer. Most people diagnosed are 70 and older since the odds of experiencing ureteral cancer progressively increase with age. Additional risk factors associated with ureteral cancer including being a smoker, having a family history of this type of cancer, and having previously had kidney or bladder cancer.