Overview

Cancer of the ureter (ureteral cancer) is an abnormal growth of cells on the inside lining of the tubes (ureters) that connect your kidneys to your bladder. Ureters are part of the urinary tract, and they carry urine produced by the kidneys to the bladder.

Ureteral cancer is uncommon. It occurs most often in older adults and in people who have previously been treated for bladder cancer.

Ureteral cancer is closely related to bladder cancer. The cells that line the ureters are the same type of cells that line the inside of the bladder. People diagnosed with ureteral cancer have a greatly increased risk of bladder cancer, so your doctor will recommend tests to look for signs of bladder cancer.

Treatment for ureteral cancer typically involves surgery. In certain situations, chemotherapy or immunotherapy may be recommended.

Symptoms

Signs and symptoms of ureteral cancer include:

  • Blood in urine
  • Back pain
  • Pain when urinating
  • Losing weight without trying
  • Fatigue

When to see a doctor

Make an appointment with your doctor if you have any persistent signs and symptoms that worry you.

Causes

It's not clear what causes ureteral cancer.

Ureteral cancer happens when cells on the inside lining of the ureter develop changes (mutations) in their DNA. A cell's DNA contains the instructions that tell a cell what to do. The changes tell the cells to multiply rapidly and to continue living beyond their typical life cycle. The result is a growing mass of abnormal cells that can grow to block the ureter or spread to other areas of the body.

Risk factors

Factors that can increase the risk of ureteral cancer include:

  • Increasing age. The risk of ureteral cancer increases with age. Most people diagnosed with this cancer are in their 70s and 80s.
  • Previous bladder or kidney cancer. People who have been diagnosed with bladder cancer or kidney cancer have an increased risk of ureteral cancer.
  • Smoking. Smoking tobacco increases the risk of ureteral cancer, as well as other urinary tract cancers, including kidney cancer and bladder cancer.
  • Family history of cancer. Lynch syndrome, also called hereditary nonpolyposis colorectal cancer (HNPCC), increases the risk of colon cancer and other cancers, including ureteral cancer. If you have a strong family history of cancer, discuss it with your doctor. Together you may decide whether to consider genetic testing for Lynch syndrome and other inherited cancer syndromes.

Ureteral cancer care at Mayo Clinic

Jan. 16, 2021
  1. Bladder cancer. National Comprehensive Cancer Network. https://www.nccn.org/professionals/physician_gls/default.aspx. Accessed Nov. 18, 2020.
  2. Partin AW, et al., eds. Urothelial tumors of the upper urinary tract and ureter. In: Campbell-Walsh-Wein Urology. 12th ed. Elsevier; 2021. https://www.clinicalkey.com. Accessed Nov. 23, 2020.
  3. Richie JP, et al. Malignancies of the renal pelvis and ureter. https://www.uptodate.com/contents/search. Accessed Nov. 23, 2020.
  4. Warner KJ. Allscripts EPSi. Mayo Clinic. Aug. 20, 2020.

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