Questions About Cancer? 1-800-4-CANCER

Transitional Cell Cancer of the Renal Pelvis and Ureter Treatment (PDQ®)

Health Professional Version
Last Modified: 03/12/2014

Treatment Option Overview

The rarity of synchronous bilateral renal pelvic neoplasia, the low incidence of asynchronous development of contralateral upper tract tumors, and the increased risk of tumor recurrence in the ipsilateral ureter distal to the original pelvic tumor are the rationale for total nephroureterectomy with bladder cuff for most patients with renal pelvic transitional cell cancers and ureteral cancers.

Contemplation of anything less than total excision must take into account the potential risk for tumor recurrence anywhere in the upper tract unit. In other than unifocal, low-grade, low-stage renal pelvic tumors, the probable extensive involvement of both contiguous and noncontiguous sites would appear to make segmental excision an unnecessary option with a potentially serious risk. However, an operative possibility includes segmental excision of a particular lesion. If the extent of a tumor can be determined by intraoperative assessment, and frozen section histologic diagnosis confirms low-grade, unifocal tumor of limited size, then segmental excision is possible. However, this approach should be reserved for highly selected patients. This includes those patients who have a solitary kidney or those with decreased renal function and who require maximal preservation of renal tissue. The likelihood of tumor recurrence in this setting, and of extension of disease outside the renal pelvis once the pelvis has been violated, is a serious risk that must be heavily weighed in offering a patient this therapeutic option.

Ureteral transitional cell cancer may more readily offer the possibility of segmental excision if the absence of proximal disease can be documented. In this setting, attention is focused on the ease of reconstruction of the ureter and restoration of ureterovesical continuity. This is most feasible if the cancer is in the distal ureter. If partial ureterectomy is possible and proximal disease has been excluded, then segmental excision and ureteral reimplantation can be performed.

Systematic regional lymph node dissection in conjunction with nephroureterectomy or segmental excision has not been found to enhance the effectiveness of surgery if tumors are of high grade or high stage, since in these instances the overall results are so poor. Correspondingly, lymph node involvement is uncommon in low-stage disease, and lymphadenectomy is therefore unlikely to remove additional tumor. Thus, lymph node dissection at the time of nephrectomy may offer prognostic information, but little, if any, therapeutic benefit.