Adjuvant Radiotherapy for Upper Tract Urothelial Carcinoma: Systematic Review and Meta-Analysis

Curr Oncol. 2022 Dec 20;30(1):19-36. doi: 10.3390/curroncol30010002.


Purpose: Upper tract urothelial carcinoma (UTUC) is a rare form of malignancy comprising only 5% of urothelial cancers. The mainstay of treatment is radical nephroureterectomy (RNU) with bladder cuff excision. Neoadjuvant or adjuvant chemotherapy is often used in locally advanced disease. The role of adjuvant radiotherapy (RT), however, remains controversial. To further explore the potential role of adjuvant RT, we performed a systematic review and meta-analysis of the literature from 1990 to present.

Methods and materials: We identified 810 candidate articles from database searches, of which 67 studies underwent full-text review, with final inclusion of 20 eligible studies. Among the included studies, there were no randomized controlled trials and a single prospective trial, with the remainder being retrospective series. We performed quantitative synthesis of the results by calculating the pooled odds ratios (OR) for the primary outcome of locoregional recurrence (LRR) and secondary outcomes of overall survival (OS), cancer-specific survival (CSS) and distant recurrence (DR).

Results: Adjuvant RT, which was mostly prescribed for locally advanced or margin-positive disease following RNU, significantly reduced locoregional recurrence risk OR 0.43 (95% CI: 0.23-0.70), and the effect remained significant even following subgroup analysis to account for adjuvant systemic therapy. The effect of adjuvant RT on 3-year OS, 5-year CSS and DR was non-significant. However, 5-year OS was unfavourable in the adjuvant RT arm, but study heterogeneity was high, and analysis of small-study effects and subgroups suggested bias in reporting of outcomes.

Conclusions: Adjuvant RT in the setting of locally advanced UTUC improves locoregional control following definitive surgery, but does not appear to improve OS. Higher-quality studies, ideally randomized controlled trials, are needed to further quantify its benefit in this setting, and to explore multi-modal treatments that include systemic agents given concomitantly or sequentially with RT, which may offer an OS benefit in addition to the locoregional control benefit of RT.

Keywords: adjuvant radiotherapy; external beam; genitourinary; locoregional control; meta-analysis; proximal ureter; renal pelvis; survival; systematic review; upper tract urothelial carcinoma.

Publication types

  • Meta-Analysis
  • Systematic Review
  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Carcinoma, Transitional Cell* / drug therapy
  • Carcinoma, Transitional Cell* / radiotherapy
  • Carcinoma, Transitional Cell* / surgery
  • Humans
  • Neoplasm Recurrence, Local
  • Prospective Studies
  • Radiotherapy, Adjuvant
  • Retrospective Studies
  • Urinary Bladder Neoplasms*

Grants and funding

This research received no external funding.