Endoscopic Treatment of Upper Tract Urothelial Carcinoma

Curr Urol Rep. 2017 Apr;18(4):31. doi: 10.1007/s11934-017-0675-x.


Purpose of review: This study aims to make the reader be aware of recent trends regarding the endoscopic management of upper tract urothelial carcinoma (UTUC) via review of the urologic literature over the past 5 years. Given the rare incidence of this disease, and the lack of level 1 evidence, systematic reviews and meta-analyses were also evaluated. Studies of importance are also considered and outlined in the annotated reference section.

Recent findings: The PubMed database was queried using the following medical subject headings (MeSH terms): "carcinoma, transitional cell," "ureter," "ureteral neoplasms," "kidney pelvis," "endoscopy," "laser therapy," "ureteroscopy," "urologic surgical procedures," and "ureteroscopes." MeSH terms were linked together in varying combinations and limited to human studies in English. Given the relatively rare nature of upper tract urothelial carcinoma (UTUC), level 1 evidence regarding the efficacy of endoscopic treatment does not exist, even after 30+ years of experience. Rather, the literature available mostly is in the form of single institutional retrospective series consisting of relatively small numbers of patients with short to intermediate follow-up. Only within the last 3 years have published series with larger numbers of patients and mean follow-up over 5 years been made available. Even with these more robust experiences, comparisons among series are difficult given variable treatment and follow-up approaches. Most endoscopically managed UTUC will locally recur, especially with longer follow-up. Renal preservation rate is high, however, approaching 80% with follow-up well over 3 years. Patients with high-grade disease often fare poorly regardless of treatment modality. As such, endoscopic management for high-grade urothelial carcinoma should only be used in exceptional circumstances (i.e., in those patients medically unfit for NU or those with solitary kidneys wishing to avoid the morbidity of dialysis). No level 1 evidence exists for the routine use of intraluminal adjuvant therapy for UTUC (i.e., BCG and Mitomycin C) and multiple retrospective observational series claim there is no overt benefit. The recent formation of multiple international groups with interest in UTUC may eventually lead to the production of level 1 studies regarding optimal treatment; however, uniformity in treatment approach will likely still offer challenges.

Keywords: Endourology; Laser ablation; Laser therapy; Minimally invasive urology; Percutaneous renal surgery; Upper tract urothelial carcinoma.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Humans
  • Laser Therapy
  • Minimally Invasive Surgical Procedures
  • Treatment Outcome
  • Ureteroscopy* / methods
  • Urologic Neoplasms / pathology
  • Urologic Neoplasms / therapy*
  • Urologic Surgical Procedures