Overview. Upper tract tumors are cancers that develop in the renal pelvis (the part of the kidney that collects urine) and the ureters (the tubes that carry urine between the kidneys and the bladder). These tumors are extremely rare – 1-2 cases per 100,000 people per year – accounting for less than 1 percent of cancers of the reproductive and urinary systems. Renal pelvic tumors comprise only about 1 in 20 renal cancers, and are more likely to occur in men than in women. Ureteral cancers are also more common in men than in women. Both types of tumor increase the risk of developing bladder cancer.
Risk Factors. A history of bladder cancer is the main risk factor associated with upper tract tumors. Cigarette smoking is another major risk factor, accounting for 60-80 percent of cases. Chronic urinary tract infections and overuse of analgesics have also been associated with greater risk.
Diagnosis and Treatment. Upper tract tumors are often discovered when a patient is undergoing testing after presenting to his or her physician with hematuria (blood in the urine). Other symptoms include pelvic pain, bladder irritation, and constipation. A diagnosis is made by conducting a biopsy of the abnormal tissue. The primary treatment for most upper tract tumors is to surgically remove the kidney, ureter, and a portion of the bladder. When the cancer is locally advanced, chemotherapy treatment is administered similar to that used for bladder cancer. Chemotherapy is also the primary treatment for tumors that are inoperable.