Recent advances in upper tract urothelial carcinomas: From bench to clinics

Int J Urol. 2019 Feb;26(2):148-159. doi: 10.1111/iju.13826. Epub 2018 Oct 29.


Urothelial carcinoma in the upper tract is rare and often discussed separately. Many established risk factors were identified for the disease, including genetic and external risk factors. Radiographic survey, endoscopic examination and urine cytology remained the most important diagnostic modalities. In localized upper tract urothelial carcinomas, radical nephroureterectomy with bladder cuff excision are the gold standard for large, high-grade and suspected invasive tumors of the renal pelvis and proximal ureter, whereas kidney-sparing surgeries should be considered in patients with low-risk disease. Advances in technology have given endoscopic surgery an important role, not only in diagnosis, but also in treatment. Although platinum-based combination chemotherapy is efficacious in advanced or metastatic disease, current established chemotherapy regimens are toxic and lack a sustained response. Immune checkpoint inhibitors have led to a new era of treatment for advanced or metastatic urothelial carcinomas. The remarkable results achieved thus far show that immunotherapy will likely be the future treatment paradigm. The combination of immune checkpoint inhibitors and other agents is another inspiring avenue to explore that could benefit even more patients. With respect to the high incidence rate and different clinical appearance of upper tract urothelial carcinomas in Taiwan, a possible correlation exists between exposure to certain external risk factors, such as arsenic in drinking water and aristolochic acid in Chinese herbal medicine. As more gene sequencing differences between upper tract urothelial carcinomas and various disease causes are detailed, this has warranted the era of individualized screening and treatment for the disease.

Keywords: Taiwan; aristolochic acid; immune checkpoint inhibitor; upper tract urothelial carcinoma.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Antineoplastic Agents / therapeutic use
  • Aristolochic Acids / toxicity
  • Arsenic / toxicity
  • Carcinogens / toxicity
  • Carcinoma, Transitional Cell / diagnosis
  • Carcinoma, Transitional Cell / epidemiology
  • Carcinoma, Transitional Cell / etiology
  • Carcinoma, Transitional Cell / therapy*
  • Disease Models, Animal
  • Drinking Water / chemistry
  • Drugs, Chinese Herbal / toxicity
  • Humans
  • Immunotherapy / methods
  • Incidence
  • Kidney Neoplasms / diagnosis
  • Kidney Neoplasms / epidemiology
  • Kidney Neoplasms / etiology
  • Kidney Neoplasms / therapy*
  • Nephrectomy / methods
  • Risk Factors
  • Taiwan / epidemiology
  • Ureteral Neoplasms / diagnosis
  • Ureteral Neoplasms / epidemiology
  • Ureteral Neoplasms / etiology
  • Ureteral Neoplasms / therapy*
  • Ureteroscopy / methods


  • Antineoplastic Agents
  • Aristolochic Acids
  • Carcinogens
  • Drinking Water
  • Drugs, Chinese Herbal
  • aristolochic acid I
  • Arsenic