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What is upper tract urothelial cancer (UTUC)?
Upper tract urothelial cancer, or UTUC, is a cancer that happens in the lining of the kidneys or ureters. It is called upper tract because the kidneys and the ureters are the upper part of the urinary tract.
Your urologist might call this type of cancer by other names, such as
- Cancer of the upper urinary tract
- Upper tract urothelial carcinoma
- Kidney cancer
- Renal pelvis cancer
- Ureteral cancer
- Urinary tract cancer
- Upper tract cancer
- Cancer in the lining of the kidney
What is urothelial cancer?
Urothelial cancer is cancer that happens in the urinary tract. It is called urothelial because it usually happens in the urothelium, which is the tissue that lines the inside of the urinary tract. Your urologist might call it urinary tract cancer or urothelial carcinoma.
For more information about urothelial cancer, visit the Cancer and the urinary tract page.
How do people get UTUC?
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)
- Being exposed to chemicals, usually in the workplace
- Medical history  (there is a higher chance of getting UTUC if you’ve had other types of 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 developing more tumors in the future. For help quitting, don't be afraid to talk to your doctor.
Is UTUC dangerous?
Like all cancers, UTUC is a serious disease. If it is not treated, it can cause kidney damage or spread to other parts of the body. If it is not treated for long enough, it can cause death. To understand how dangerous UTUC is, it is important to find out the grade and stage of the cancer.
How can UTUC be treated?
There are several ways to treat UTUC. The right treatment depends on how dangerous the cancer is.
Low-grade UTUC is usually not too dangerous. It is not very aggressive and is slow to spread. However, it is still important to get it treated to avoid serious kidney damage. There are several different ways to treat it.
High-grade 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. There is only one good way to treat high-grade UTUC, and it is to have surgery.
For more information about how UTUC can be treated, visit the UTUC treatment options page.
Also, be sure to talk to your urologist before choosing a treatment. To make sure that you’re asking the right questions, visit the Talking to your urologist page.
What do words like grade and stage mean?
The grade of your UTUC depends on how aggressive the cancer is. There are 2 grades of UTUC: low grade and high grade. Low grade is usually not very aggressive and is slow to spread. High grade is more dangerous. It can be aggressive and could spread to other parts of your urinary tract or other parts of your body.
The stage of your UTUC depends on how deep into your kidney or ureter your cancer has grown. The stage of your cancer could be anywhere from 0 to 4. However, it can be hard to know what stage UTUC is. Your urologist might not always be able to tell.
For more information about grade and stage, visit the What to know about UTUC page.
How do I find out what grade and stage my UTUC is?
Talk to your urologist. The results of your biopsy should give your urologist more information about the grade and stage of your UTUC.
What can I expect if I have to have surgery to remove my UTUC?
There are a lot of important things to think about before you have surgery, even if it is a minor operation. Visit the UTUC treatment options page for information about what surgery could mean for you.
Are there any medications that I can take for UTUC?
At this time, there are no medications approved by the US Food & Drug Administration (FDA) to treat UTUC. However, new treatments for cancer are always being studied.
To see what new treatments are being tested for urinary tract cancers, visit the list of clinical studies on the Bladder Cancer Advocacy Network (BCAN) website or the National Library of Medicine's study registry.