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Renal pelvis or ureter cancer

Cancer of the renal pelvis or ureter is cancer that forms in the kidney's pelvis or the tube (ureter) that carries urine from the kidney to the bladder.


Cancer can grow in the urine collection system, but it is uncommon. Renal pelvis and ureter cancers affect men more often than women. These cancers are more common in people older than 65.

The exact causes of this cancer are not known. Long-term (chronic) irritation of the kidney from harmful substances removed in the urine may be a factor. This irritation may be caused by:

  • Kidney damage from medicines, especially ones for pain (analgesic nephropathy)
  • Exposure to certain dyes and chemicals used to manufacture leather goods, textiles, plastics, and rubber
  • Smoking

People who have had bladder cancer are also at risk.


Symptoms may include any of the following:

Exams and Tests

The health care provider will perform a physical exam, and examine your belly area (abdomen). In rare cases, this may reveal an enlarged kidney.

If tests are done:

  • Urinalysis may show blood in the urine.
  • A complete blood count (CBC) may show anemia.
  • Urine cytology (microscopic examination of cells) may reveal cancer cells.

Other tests that may be ordered include:

These tests may reveal a tumor or show that the cancer has spread from the kidneys.


The goal of treatment is to eliminate the cancer.

Surgery to remove all or part of the kidney (nephrectomy) is often done. This may include removing part of the bladder and tissues around it, or the lymph nodes. If the tumor is in the ureter, it may be possible to remove it while preserving the kidney.

When the cancer has spread outside of the kidney or ureter, chemotherapy is often used. Because these tumors are similar to a form of bladder cancer, they are treated with a similar type of chemotherapy.

Support Groups

You can ease the stress of illness by joining a cancer support group. Sharing with others who have common experiences and problems can help you not feel alone.

Outlook (Prognosis)

Outcome varies depending on the location of the tumor and whether the cancer has spread. Cancer that is only in the kidney or ureter may be cured with surgery.

Cancer that has spread to other organs is usually not curable.

Possible Complications

Complications from this cancer may include:

  • Kidney failure
  • Local spread of the tumor with increasing pain
  • Spread of the cancer

When to Contact a Medical Professional

Contact your provider if you have any of the symptoms listed above.


Measures that may help prevent this cancer include:

  • Follow your provider's advice regarding medicines, including over-the-counter pain medicine.
  • Stop smoking.
  • Wear protective equipment if you are likely to be exposed to substances that are toxic to the kidneys.

Alternative Names

Transitional cell cancer of the renal pelvis or ureter; Kidney cancer - renal pelvis; Ureter cancer


National Cancer Institute. PDQ transitional cell cancer of the renal pelvis and ureter treatment. Bethesda, MD: National Cancer Institute. Updated October 1, 2015. www.cancer.gov/cancertopics/pdq/treatment/transitionalcell/HealthProfessional. Accessed June 30, 2016.

National Comprehensive Cancer Network. NCCN clinical practice guidelines in oncology (NCCN guidelines): kidney cancer. Updated May 26, 2016. Version 3.2016. www.nccn.org/professionals/physician_gls/pdf/kidney.pdf. Accessed June 30, 2016.

Pili R, Kauffman E, Rodriguez R. Cancer of the kidney. In: Niederhuber JE, Armitage JO, Doroshow JH, Kastan MB, Tepper JE, eds. Abeloff's Clinical Oncology. 5th ed. Philadelphia, PA: Elsevier Churchill Livingstone; 2014:chap 82.

Review Date 5/20/2016

Updated by: Todd Gersten, MD, Hematology/Oncology, Florida Cancer Specialists & Research Institute, Wellington, FL. Review provided by VeriMed Healthcare Network. Also reviewed by David Zieve, MD, MHA, Isla Ogilvie, PhD, and the A.D.A.M. Editorial team.

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