Woman with UTUC

What you should know about UTUC

It's important to learn as much as you can about UTUC so that you can choose the right treatment for you. Here are some important things to know about this rare but treatable disease.

Silhouette of woman with UTUC

Who gets UTUC?

UTUC is a rare type of cancer. Only about 5% to 10% of all urinary tract cancer happens in the upper urinary tract. That means about 5000 people will be diagnosed with UTUC every year.

UTUC also happens more often in men than in women. About 75% of UTUC cases happen in men.

Why do people get it?

There are a lot of different reasons why someone might get UTUC, and it is hard to know exactly what causes it. However, there are several things that could increase a person’s chances of getting UTUC:

  • Age – As people get older, they have a higher chance of getting UTUC. Most cases are usually diagnosed in people who are between 70 and 90 years old.
  • Smoking
  • Being exposed to chemicals, usually in the workplace
  • Medical history – You might have a higher chance of getting UTUC if you’ve had other types of cancer, such as colorectal cancer or bladder cancer, or a disease called Lynch syndrome.

Note: Smoking is a big reason why many people get cancer, including UTUC. If you smoke, quitting could reduce your chances of getting more tumors in the future. For help quitting, don't be afraid to talk to your doctor.

Why it’s important to get UTUC treated

Like all cancers, UTUC is a serious disease. It can cause serious problems if it is not treated. In the short term, it can cause kidney damage. It can also spread to other parts of your body, and if it is not treated for long enough, it can cause death.

Important things to think about when choosing a treatment

Your urologist probably gave you a biopsy as part of your cancer diagnosis. A biopsy is a medical test that gives your doctor more information about your cancer. It involves a minor operation to take some body tissue and cells to be studied.

Before you choose a treatment, your urologist will usually look at the results of your biopsy and talk to you about risk. Urologists think about UTUC as low risk or high risk, depending on how dangerous they think it is. Low-risk UTUC is not considered as dangerous as high-risk UTUC.

The risk of UTUC depends on several different things:


The grade of your cancer depends on how aggressive the cancer cells are and how likely they are to spread.

In UTUC, there are 2 different grades:

  • Low grade – This type of UTUC is usually not very aggressive and is slow to spread.
  • High grade – This type of UTUC is usually more dangerous. It can be aggressive and might spread to other parts of your urinary tract or other parts of your body.

The grade of your cancer is usually the most important thing to think about when you choose a treatment for UTUC. If you haven’t talked to your urologist about whether your cancer is low or high grade, be sure to ask.


The stage of your cancer depends on how deep your cancer has grown into the tissue of the organ.

The stage could be anywhere from 0 to 4. UTUC that is stage 0 is right on the surface of your urothelium. UTUC that is stage 4 has grown deep into your kidney or ureter and has also spread to another part of your body.

However, it can be hard to know what stage UTUC is. Your urologist might not be able to tell from your biopsy.

Tumor size and location

The size and location of your tumor can have an impact on how dangerous it is or how hard it is to treat. Larger tumors are usually higher risk than smaller tumors. You could also have more than 1 tumor, which could make your UTUC harder to treat.

You already know that UTUC happens in the upper part of your urinary tract, in the kidneys or the ureters. But the exact location of the tumor could have an impact on which treatment is right for you.

UTUC can happen in the ureters. It can also happen in the large, open part of the kidneys, called the renal pelvis, or in the small parts of the kidneys. If your tumor is in the small parts of the kidneys, it could be harder to treat.

Overall health

Your overall health can have a big impact on your treatment, and your treatment can have a big impact on your overall health. This is especially true if you are an older person, someone who has had kidney problems in the past, or someone who has other medical conditions.

Be sure to talk to your urologist about which treatment is best for you based on your health.

Silhouette of UTUC patient making a treatment choice

Now that you know more about the disease, find out how UTUC can be treated.

Learn about UTUC treatment options

Silhouette of UTUC patient making a treatment choice