High-grade urothelial carcinoma of the renal pelvis: clinicopathologic study of 108 cases with emphasis on unusual morphologic variants

Mod Pathol. 2006 Apr;19(4):494-503. doi: 10.1038/modpathol.3800559.


A clinicopathologic study of 108 cases of high-grade urothelial carcinomas of the renal pelvis is presented. Of the 108 tumors, 44 (40%) showed unusual morphologic features, including micropapillary areas (four cases), lymphoepithelioma-like carcinoma (two cases), sarcomatoid carcinoma (eight cases, including pseudoangiosarcomatous type), squamous differentiation and squamous cell carcinoma (15 cases), clear cells (two cases), glandular differentiation (two cases), rhabdoid, signet-ring or plasmacytoid cells (four cases), pseudosarcomatous stromal changes (four cases) and intratubular extension into the renal pelvis (three cases). Pathological staging was available in 62 patients; of these, 46 cases (74%) were in high stage (pT2-pT4) and 16 (26%) were in low stage (pTis, pTa, pT1). Clinical follow-up ranging from 1 to 256 months (median: 50 months) was available in 42 patients; of these, 26 (61%) died of tumor with a median survival of 31 months. The patients who did not die of their tumors showed only minimal or focal infiltration of the renal parenchyma by urothelial carcinoma, whereas those who died of their tumors showed massive infiltration of the kidney by the tumor. High-grade urothelial carcinomas of the renal pelvis can show a broad spectrum of histologic features similar to those seen in the urinary bladder. Our results support the finding that, unlike urothelial carcinomas of the bladder, the majority of primary urothelial carcinomas of the renal pelvis are of high histologic grade and present in advanced stages. Our study further highlights the fact that, in the renal pelvis, urothelial carcinomas show a tendency to frequently display unusual morphologic features and metaplastic phenomena. The importance of recognizing these morphologic variants of urothelial carcinoma in the renal pelvis is to avoid confusion with other conditions. The possibility of a high-grade urothelial carcinoma should always be considered in the evaluation of a tumor displaying unusual morphologic features in the renal pelvis, and attention to proper sampling as well as the use of immunohistochemical stains will be of importance to arrive at the correct diagnosis.

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Aged
  • Aged, 80 and over
  • Carcinoma, Renal Cell / metabolism
  • Carcinoma, Renal Cell / pathology
  • Carcinoma, Renal Cell / virology
  • Carcinoma, Squamous Cell / metabolism
  • Carcinoma, Squamous Cell / pathology
  • Carcinoma, Squamous Cell / virology
  • Carcinoma, Transitional Cell / metabolism
  • Carcinoma, Transitional Cell / pathology*
  • Carcinoma, Transitional Cell / virology
  • Diagnosis, Differential
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Immunohistochemistry
  • In Situ Hybridization
  • Keratin-7
  • Keratins / analysis
  • Kidney Neoplasms / metabolism
  • Kidney Neoplasms / pathology*
  • Kidney Neoplasms / virology
  • Kidney Pelvis*
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • RNA, Viral / genetics
  • Urinary Bladder Neoplasms / metabolism
  • Urinary Bladder Neoplasms / pathology*
  • Urinary Bladder Neoplasms / virology


  • Epstein-Barr virus encoded RNA 1
  • Epstein-Barr virus encoded RNA 2
  • KRT7 protein, human
  • Keratin-7
  • RNA, Viral
  • Keratins