While the majority of bladder cancers (approximately 90-95%) occur in the bladder, the urothelial cells that line the bladder are also found in other locations in the urinary system. Urothelial carcinoma is a cancer that can occur in the inner linings of the kidney, down the ureter, in the bladder and down the urethra. Roughly 92-95% of all urothelial carcinomas occur in the bladder, but the other 5-7 % can occur in the upper lining of the kidney, which we call the calyx and renal pelvis. It could occur in the ureter, and we refer to those cancers as Upper Tract Urothelial Carcinoma, or UTUC.
There are two kinds of upper tract urothelial carcinoma:
- Non-invasive: more than half the people have this type, where the cancer remains in the urothelial cells that line the renal pelvis or ureters.
- Invasive: the rest have this type, where the cancer has grown beyond those urothelial cells. Or it may have spread to other parts of the body.
In addition to the other signs of bladder cancer, individuals with UTUC may also experience flank pain (discomfort, or severe pain in the part of the body below the rib). This can occur because the tumor or bleeding may obstruct or block the kidney.
Some people have no signs or symptoms of UTUC. Their doctor finds the tumors when looking for other health problems during radiology tests or scans.