WellSpan Home

Transitional Cell Cancer of the Renal Pelvis and Ureter Treatment (PDQ®): Treatment - Patient Information [NCI]

This information is produced and provided by the National Cancer Institute (NCI). The information in this topic may have changed since it was written. For the most current information, contact the National Cancer Institute via the Internet web site at http://cancer.gov or call 1-800-4-CANCER.

General Information About Transitional Cell Cancer of the Renal Pelvis and Ureter

Transitional cell cancer of the renal pelvis and ureter is a disease in which malignant (cancer) cells form in the renal pelvis and ureter.

The renal pelvis is the top part of the ureter. The ureter is a long tube that connects the kidney to the bladder. There are two kidneys, one on each side of the backbone, above the waist. The kidneys of an adult are about 5 inches long and 3 inches wide and are shaped like a kidney bean. Tiny tubules in the kidneys filter and clean the blood. They take out waste products and make urine. The urine collects in the middle of each kidney in the renal pelvis. Urine passes from the renal pelvis through the ureter into the bladder. The bladder holds the urine until it passes through the urethra and leaves the body.

Anatomy of the male urinary system (left panel) and female urinary system (right panel); two-panel drawing showing the right and left kidneys, the ureters, the bladder filled with urine, and the urethra. The inside of the left kidney shows the renal pelvis. An inset shows the renal tubules and urine. Also shown are the prostate and penis (left panel) and the uterus (right panel).
Anatomy of the male urinary system (left panel) and female urinary system (right panel) showing the kidneys, ureters, bladder, and urethra. Urine is made in the renal tubules and collects in the renal pelvis of each kidney. The urine flows from the kidneys through the ureters to the bladder. The urine is stored in the bladder until it leaves the body through the urethra.

The renal pelvis and ureters are lined with transitional cells. These cells can change shape and stretch without breaking apart. Transitional cell cancer starts in these cells.

Transitional cell cancer can form in the renal pelvis, the ureter, or both.

Renal cell cancer is a more common type of kidney cancer. See the PDQ summary about Renal Cell Cancer Treatment for more information.

A personal history of bladder cancer and smoking can affect the risk of transitional cell cancer of the renal pelvis and ureter.

Anything that increases your risk of getting a disease is called a risk factor. Having a risk factor does not mean that you will get cancer; not having risk factors doesn't mean that you will not get cancer. Talk with your doctor if you think you may be at risk. Risk factors for transitional cell cancer of the renal pelvis and ureter include the following:

  • Having a personal history of bladder cancer.
  • Smoking cigarettes.
  • Taking a lot of certain pain medicines, such as phenacetin.
  • Being exposed to certain dyes and chemicals used in making leather goods, textiles, plastics, and rubber.

Signs and symptoms of transitional cell cancer of the renal pelvis and ureter include blood in the urine and back pain.

These and other signs and symptoms may be caused by transitional cell cancer of the renal pelvis and ureter or by other conditions. There may be no signs or symptoms in the early stages. Signs and symptoms may appear as the tumor grows. Check with your doctor if you have 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.

Tests that examine the abdomen and kidneys are used to detect (find) and diagnose transitional cell cancer of the renal pelvis and ureter.

The following tests and procedures may be used:

  • Physical exam and history: An exam of the body to check general signs of health, including checking for signs of disease, such as lumps or anything else that seems unusual. A history of the patient's health habits and past illnesses and treatments will also be taken.
  • Urinalysis: A test to check the color of urine and its contents, such as sugar, protein, blood, and bacteria.
  • Ureteroscopy: A procedure to look inside the ureter and renal pelvis to check for abnormal areas. A ureteroscope is a thin, tube-like instrument with a light and a lens for viewing. The ureteroscope is inserted through the urethra into the bladder, ureter, and renal pelvis. A tool may be inserted through the ureteroscope to take tissue samples to be checked under a microscope for signs of disease.
    Ureteroscopy; drawing shows the lower pelvis containing the right and left kidneys, ureter, bladder, and urethra. The flexible tube of a ureteroscope (a thin, tube-like instrument with a light and a lens for viewing) is shown passing through the urethra into the bladder and ureter. An inset shows a woman lying on an examination table with her knees bent and legs apart. She is covered by a drape. The doctor looks at an image of the inside of the ureter on a computer monitor.
    Ureteroscopy. A ureteroscope (a thin, tube-like instrument with a light and a lens for viewing) is inserted through the urethra into the ureter. The doctor looks at an image of the inside of the ureter on a computer monitor.
  • Urine cytology: A laboratory test in which a sample of urine is checked under a microscope for abnormal cells. Cancer in the kidney, bladder, or ureter may shed cancer cells into the urine.
  • CT scan (CAT scan): A procedure that makes a series of detailed pictures of areas inside the body, taken from different angles. The pictures are made by a computer linked to an x-ray machine. A dye may be injected into a vein or swallowed to help the organs or tissues show up more clearly. This procedure is also called computed tomography, computerized tomography, or computerized axial tomography.
  • Ultrasound: A procedure in which high-energy sound waves (ultrasound) are bounced off internal tissues or organs and make echoes. The echoes form a picture of body tissues called a sonogram. An ultrasound of the abdomen may be done to help diagnose cancer of the renal pelvis and ureter.
  • MRI (magnetic resonance imaging): A procedure that uses a magnet, radio waves, and a computer to make a series of detailed pictures of areas inside the body, such as the pelvis. This procedure is also called nuclear magnetic resonance imaging (NMRI).
  • Biopsy: The removal of cells or tissues so they can be viewed under a microscope by a pathologist to check for signs of cancer. This may be done during a ureteroscopy or surgery.

Certain factors affect prognosis (chance of recovery) and treatment options.

The prognosis (chance of recovery) depends on the stage and grade of the tumor.

The treatment options depend on the following:

  • The stage and grade of the tumor.
  • Where the tumor is.
  • Whether the patient's other kidney is healthy.
  • Whether the cancer has recurred.

Most transitional cell cancer of the renal pelvis and ureter can be cured if found early.

Stages of Transitional Cell Cancer of the Renal Pelvis and Ureter

After transitional cell cancer of the renal pelvis and ureter has been diagnosed, tests are done to find out if cancer cells have spread within the renal pelvis and ureter or to other parts of the body.

The process used to find out if cancer has spread within the renal pelvis and ureter or to other parts of the body is called staging. The information gathered from the staging process determines the stage of the disease. It is important to know the stage in order to plan treatment. The doctor will use results of the diagnostic tests to help find out the stage of the disease.

The following tests and procedures may also be used in the staging process:

  • Chest x-ray: An x-ray of the organs and bones inside the chest. An x-ray is a type of energy beam that can go through the body and onto film, making a picture of areas inside the body.
  • PET scan (positron emission tomography scan): A procedure to find malignant tumor cells in the body. A small amount of radioactive glucose (sugar) is injected into a vein. The PET scanner rotates around the body and makes a picture of where glucose is being used in the body. Malignant tumor cells show up brighter in the picture because they are more active and take up more glucose than normal cells do.
  • Bone scan: A procedure to check if there are rapidly dividing cells, such as cancer cells, in the bone. A very small amount of radioactive material is injected into a vein and travels through the bloodstream. The radioactive material collects in the bones with cancer and is detected by a scanner.

There are three ways that cancer spreads in the body.

Cancer can spread through tissue, the lymph system, and the blood:

  • Tissue. The cancer spreads from where it began by growing into nearby areas.
  • Lymph system. The cancer spreads from where it began by getting into the lymph system. The cancer travels through the lymph vessels to other parts of the body.
  • Blood. The cancer spreads from where it began by getting into the blood. The cancer travels through the blood vessels to other parts of the body.

Cancer may spread from where it began to other parts of the body.

When cancer spreads to another part of the body, it is called metastasis. Cancer cells break away from where they began (the primary tumor) and travel through the lymph system or blood.

  • Lymph system. The cancer gets into the lymph system, travels through the lymph vessels, and forms a tumor (metastatic tumor) in another part of the body.
  • Blood. The cancer gets into the blood, travels through the blood vessels, and forms a tumor (metastatic tumor) in another part of the body.

The metastatic tumor is the same type of cancer as the primary tumor. For example, if transitional cell cancer of the ureter spreads to the lung, the cancer cells in the lung are actually ureter cancer cells. The disease is metastatic cancer of the ureter, not lung cancer.

The following stages are used for transitional cell cancer of the renal pelvis and/or ureter:

Stage 0 (Noninvasive Papillary Carcinoma and Carcinoma in Situ)

In stage 0, abnormal cells are found in tissue lining the inside of the renal pelvis or ureter. These abnormal cells may become cancer and spread into nearby normal tissue. Stage 0 is divided into stages 0a and 0is, depending on the type of tumor:

  • Stage 0a is also called noninvasive papillary carcinoma, which may look like long, thin growths that grow out from the tissue lining the inside of the renal pelvis or ureter.
  • Stage 0is is also called carcinoma in situ, which is a flat tumor on the tissue lining the inside of the renal pelvis or ureter.

Stage I

In stage I, cancer has formed and has spread from the tissue lining the inside of the renal pelvis or ureter to the connective tissue layer.

Stage II

In stage II, cancer has spread to the muscle layer of the renal pelvis or ureter.

Stage III

In stage III, cancer has spread:

  • from the muscle layer of the renal pelvis to fat around the renal pelvis or to tissue in the kidney; or
  • from the muscle layer of the ureter to fat around the ureter.

Stage IV

In stage IV, cancer has spread to at least one of the following:

  • a nearby organ.
  • the layer of fat around the kidney.
  • lymph nodes.
  • other parts of the body, such as the lung, liver, or bone.

Transitional cell cancer of the renal pelvis and ureter is also described as localized, regional, or metastatic:

Localized

The cancer is found only in the kidney.

Regional

The cancer has spread to tissues around the kidney and to nearby lymph nodes and blood vessels in the pelvis.

Metastatic

The cancer has spread to other parts of the body.

Recurrent Transitional Cell Cancer of the Renal Pelvis and Ureter

Recurrent transitional cell cancer of the renal pelvis and ureter is cancer that has recurred (come back) after it has been treated. The cancer may come back in the renal pelvis, ureter, or other parts of the body.

Treatment Option Overview

There are different types of treatment for patients with transitional cell cancer of the renal pelvis and ureter.

Different types of treatments are available for patients with transitional cell cancer of the renal pelvis and ureter. Some treatments are standard (the currently used treatment), and some are being tested in clinical trials. A treatment clinical trial is a research study meant to help improve current treatments or obtain information on new treatments for patients with cancer. When clinical trials show that a new treatment is better than the standard treatment, the new treatment may become the standard treatment. Patients may want to think about taking part in a clinical trial. Some clinical trials are open only to patients who have not started treatment.

One type of standard treatment is used:

Surgery

One of the following surgical procedures may be used to treat transitional cell cancer of the renal pelvis and ureter:

  • Nephroureterectomy: Surgery to remove the entire kidney, the ureter, and the bladder cuff (tissue that connects the ureter to the bladder).
  • Segmental resection of the ureter: A surgical procedure to remove the part of the ureter that contains cancer and some of the healthy tissue around it. The ends of the ureter are then reattached. This treatment is used when the cancer is superficial and in the lower third of the ureter only, near the bladder.

New types of treatment are being tested in clinical trials.

This summary section describes treatments that are being studied in clinical trials. It may not mention every new treatment being studied. Information about clinical trials is available from the NCI Web site.

Fulguration

Fulguration is a surgical procedure that destroys tissue using an electric current. A tool with a small wire loop on the end is used to remove the cancer or to burn away the tumor with electricity.

Segmental resection of the renal pelvis

This is a surgical procedure to remove localized cancer from the renal pelvis without removing the entire kidney. Segmental resection may be done to save kidney function when the other kidney is damaged or has already been removed.

Laser surgery

A laser beam (narrow beam of intense light) is used as a knife to remove the cancer. A laser beam can also be used to kill the cancer cells. This procedure may also be called or laser fulguration.

Regional chemotherapy and regional biologic therapy

Chemotherapy is a cancer treatment that uses drugs to stop the growth of cancer cells, either by killing the cells or by stopping the cells from dividing. Biologic therapy is a treatment that uses the patient's immune system to fight cancer; substances made by the body or made in a laboratory are used to boost, direct, or restore the body's natural defenses against cancer. Regional treatment means the anticancer drugs or biologic substances are placed directly into an organ or a body cavity such as the abdomen, so the drugs will affect cancer cells in that area. Clinical trials are studying chemotherapy or biologic therapy using drugs placed directly into the renal pelvis or the ureter.

Patients may want to think about taking part in a clinical trial.

For some patients, taking part in a clinical trial may be the best treatment choice. Clinical trials are part of the cancer research process. Clinical trials are done to find out if new cancer treatments are safe and effective or better than the standard treatment.

Many of today's standard treatments for cancer are based on earlier clinical trials. Patients who take part in a clinical trial may receive the standard treatment or be among the first to receive a new treatment.

Patients who take part in clinical trials also help improve the way cancer will be treated in the future. Even when clinical trials do not lead to effective new treatments, they often answer important questions and help move research forward.

Patients can enter clinical trials before, during, or after starting their cancer treatment.

Some clinical trials only include patients who have not yet received treatment. Other trials test treatments for patients whose cancer has not gotten better. There are also clinical trials that test new ways to stop cancer from recurring (coming back) or reduce the side effects of cancer treatment.

Clinical trials are taking place in many parts of the country. Information about clinical trials supported by NCI can be found on NCI's clinical trials search webpage. Clinical trials supported by other organizations can be found on the ClinicalTrials.gov website.

Follow-up tests may be needed.

Some of the tests that were done to diagnose the cancer or to find out the stage of the cancer may be repeated. Some tests will be repeated in order to see how well the treatment is working. Decisions about whether to continue, change, or stop treatment may be based on the results of these tests.

Some of the tests will continue to be done from time to time after treatment has ended. The results of these tests can show if your condition has changed or if the cancer has recurred (come back). These tests are sometimes called follow-up tests or check-ups.

Treatment Options for Transitional Cell Cancer of the Renal Pelvis and Ureter

Localized Transitional Cell Cancer of the Renal Pelvis and Ureter

Treatment of localized transitional cell cancer of the renal pelvis and ureter may include the following:

  • Surgery (nephroureterectomy or segmental resection of ureter).
  • A clinical trial of fulguration.
  • A clinical trial of laser surgery.
  • A clinical trial of segmental resection of the renal pelvis.
  • A clinical trial of regional chemotherapy.
  • A clinical trial of regional biologic therapy.

Use our clinical trial search to find NCI-supported cancer clinical trials that are accepting patients. You can search for trials based on the type of cancer, the age of the patient, and where the trials are being done. General information about clinical trials is also available.

Regional Transitional Cell Cancer of the Renal Pelvis and Ureter

Treatment of regional transitional cell cancer of the renal pelvis and ureter is usually done in a clinical trial.

Use our clinical trial search to find NCI-supported cancer clinical trials that are accepting patients. You can search for trials based on the type of cancer, the age of the patient, and where the trials are being done. General information about clinical trials is also available.

Metastatic Transitional Cell Cancer of the Renal Pelvis and Ureter

Treatment of metastatic transitional cell cancer of the renal pelvis and ureter is usually done in a clinical trial, which may include chemotherapy.

Use our clinical trial search to find NCI-supported cancer clinical trials that are accepting patients. You can search for trials based on the type of cancer, the age of the patient, and where the trials are being done. General information about clinical trials is also available.

Recurrent Transitional Cell Cancer of the Renal Pelvis and Ureter

Treatment of recurrent transitional cell cancer of the renal pelvis and ureter is usually done in a clinical trial, which may include chemotherapy.

Use our clinical trial search to find NCI-supported cancer clinical trials that are accepting patients. You can search for trials based on the type of cancer, the age of the patient, and where the trials are being done. General information about clinical trials is also available.

To Learn More About Transitional Cell Cancer of the Renal Pelvis and Ureter

For more information from the National Cancer Institute about transitional cell cancer of the renal pelvis and ureter, see the following:

  • Kidney Cancer Home Page
  • Tobacco (includes help with quitting)

For general cancer information and other resources from the National Cancer Institute, see the following:

  • About Cancer
  • Staging
  • Chemotherapy and You: Support for People With Cancer
  • Radiation Therapy and You: Support for People With Cancer
  • Coping with Cancer
  • Questions to Ask Your Doctor about Cancer
  • For Survivors and Caregivers

About This PDQ Summary

About PDQ

Physician Data Query (PDQ) is the National Cancer Institute's (NCI's) comprehensive cancer information database. The PDQ database contains summaries of the latest published information on cancer prevention, detection, genetics, treatment, supportive care, and complementary and alternative medicine. Most summaries come in two versions. The health professional versions have detailed information written in technical language. The patient versions are written in easy-to-understand, nontechnical language. Both versions have cancer information that is accurate and up to date and most versions are also available in Spanish.

PDQ is a service of the NCI. The NCI is part of the National Institutes of Health (NIH). NIH is the federal government's center of biomedical research. The PDQ summaries are based on an independent review of the medical literature. They are not policy statements of the NCI or the NIH.

Purpose of This Summary

This PDQ cancer information summary has current information about the treatment of transitional cell cancer of the renal pelvis and ureter. It is meant to inform and help patients, families, and caregivers. It does not give formal guidelines or recommendations for making decisions about health care.

Reviewers and Updates

Editorial Boards write the PDQ cancer information summaries and keep them up to date. These Boards are made up of experts in cancer treatment and other specialties related to cancer. The summaries are reviewed regularly and changes are made when there is new information. The date on each summary ("Date Last Modified") is the date of the most recent change.

The information in this patient summary was taken from the health professional version, which is reviewed regularly and updated as needed, by the PDQ Adult Treatment Editorial Board.

Clinical Trial Information

A clinical trial is a study to answer a scientific question, such as whether one treatment is better than another. Trials are based on past studies and what has been learned in the laboratory. Each trial answers certain scientific questions in order to find new and better ways to help cancer patients. During treatment clinical trials, information is collected about the effects of a new treatment and how well it works. If a clinical trial shows that a new treatment is better than one currently being used, the new treatment may become "standard." Patients may want to think about taking part in a clinical trial. Some clinical trials are open only to patients who have not started treatment.

Clinical trials are listed in PDQ and can be found online at NCI's website. Many cancer doctors who take part in clinical trials are also listed in PDQ. For more information, call the Cancer Information Service 1-800-4-CANCER (1-800-422-6237).

Permission to Use This Summary

PDQ is a registered trademark. The content of PDQ documents can be used freely as text. It cannot be identified as an NCI PDQ cancer information summary unless the whole summary is shown and it is updated regularly. However, a user would be allowed to write a sentence such as "NCI's PDQ cancer information summary about breast cancer prevention states the risks in the following way: [include excerpt from the summary]."

The best way to cite this PDQ summary is:

PDQ® Adult Treatment Editorial Board. PDQ Transitional Cell Cancer of the Renal Pelvis and Ureter Treatment. Bethesda, MD: National Cancer Institute. Updated <MM/DD/YYYY>. Available at: https://www.cancer.gov/types/kidney/patient/transitional-cell-treatment-pdq. Accessed <MM/DD/YYYY>. [PMID: 26389285]

Images in this summary are used with permission of the author(s), artist, and/or publisher for use in the PDQ summaries only. If you want to use an image from a PDQ summary and you are not using the whole summary, you must get permission from the owner. It cannot be given by the National Cancer Institute. Information about using the images in this summary, along with many other images related to cancer can be found in Visuals Online. Visuals Online is a collection of more than 2,000 scientific images.

Disclaimer

The information in these summaries should not be used to make decisions about insurance reimbursement. More information on insurance coverage is available on Cancer.gov on the Managing Cancer Care page.

Contact Us

More information about contacting us or receiving help with the Cancer.gov website can be found on our Contact Us for Help page. Questions can also be submitted to Cancer.gov through the website's E-mail Us.

Last Revised: 2018-02-07


If you want to know more about cancer and how it is treated, or if you wish to know about clinical trials for your type of cancer, you can call the NCI's Cancer Information Service at 1-800-422-6237, toll free. A trained information specialist can talk with you and answer your questions.


Are you sure you would like to cancel?

All information will be lost.

Yes No ×

About the provider search

This search will provide you with WellSpan Medical Group and Northern Lancaster County (Ephrata) Medical Group primary care physicians and specialists. If we don’t have a WellSpan Medical Group physician to meet your criteria, the search will expand to include community physicians who partner with WellSpan Medical Group physicians through the WellSpan Provider Network or provide care to patients on the Medical Staffs of WellSpan’s Hospitals.

×

Schedule Your Next Appointment Online with MyWellSpan

Use your MyWellSpan patient portal any time to view available appointments, and pick the date and time that best suits your schedule.

Go to MyWellSpan

New to this practice?

If you don't have a WellSpan primary care provider and would like to schedule a new patient appointment with a provider who is accepting patients, just log into your MyWellSpan account, and go to the Appointment Center section. As you progress through the scheduling process, you will be able to see the offices that are accepting new patients in relation to your zip code. If you are not enrolled in MyWellSpan, go to https://my.wellspan.org, call 1-866-638-1842 or speak with a member of the staff at a participating facility to sign up. New patient scheduling not available at all practices/programs.

Already a patient at this practice?

If you already have a relationship with a WellSpan practice, simply log into your account, and go to the Appointment Center section. As you progress through the scheduling process, you will be able to schedule an appointment with any provider or practice that already counts you as a patient. Online scheduling varies by practice/program.

×