What Is Urological Cancer?

Like it or not, many of us struggle with the risk of urological cancer. Knowing that it is good to stay up to date with the latest news regarding urological cancers.

But with so much information available online, the whole process can become quite overwhelming.

That is why today, we are here to share the key details about urological cancers with a special focus on their symptoms. That way, you will always be able to recognize them and ask for help as soon as possible. 

What are urological cancers?

As you may know, the term cancer describes the process of abnormal tissue growth. Cancer can occur anywhere in the human body, including the urinary tract. When there has been cancer affecting one or many urinary tract organs, we say that urological cancer has developed. 

Our urinary tract consists of several essential body organs. The list includes our kidneys, bladder, ureters, and the urethra. Thanks to our urinary system, our body can remove waste products after it is done, absorbing all of the nutrients that we need. 

Unfortunately, nowadays, many people are living with some form of urinary tract cancer. While the doctors are working hard to discover the cause, the truth is that they are nowhere near doing that.

When it comes to any cancer form, no single cause has been identified. Instead, there have been multiple factors that have been recognized as cancer risk factors. Speaking of urological cancer risk factors, there are the ones that are most commonly discussed. 

  • Environmental factors

  • Lifestyle factors

  • Genetics, etc. 

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Types of urological cancers

Now, we mentioned that there are several different types of urological cancer. In the following, we will briefly discuss each of these types and share their specifics. It is worth mentioning a key detail here.

The kidney, adrenal, bladder, and urethral cancers are seen in both men and women. However, the prostate, penile, and testicular cancers are specific for male patients only.

Although the prostate, penis, and testicles are a part of the male reproductive system, they are often mentioned among the urological cancers. 

Kidney cancer

Each of us has two fist-sized kidneys located on either side of the spine. Their shape is similar to that of beans. The kidneys have a very important job, and that is to filter out the waste from our blood and produce urine.

Our kidneys are often affected by kidney cancer, often referred to as renal cancer. Kidney cancer is not as rare as doctors would like it to be. It just so happens that the kidney cancer rates are increasing in the last couple of years, as Mayo Clinic reports.

Back in 2017, about 63,000 new cases of kidney cancer have been reported. What makes kidney cancer even more serious is the fact that it is highly unlikely that it will cause any symptoms in its early stages. The cancer patient usually experiences symptoms when their condition has progressed. And so, the following symptoms may take place:

  • A persistent pain located in the lower back, just below the ribs

  • Abdominal pain

  • Abdominal swelling

  • Presence of blood in the urine

  • Fatigue

  • Unintentional weight loss

  • Presence of lump in the abdomen

  • Anemia

  • Frequent fever, etc.

Over the years, different types of kidney cancer have been identified. The most common type of them all seems to be known by the name of adenocarcinoma or renal cell carcinoma.

In adults, this is the most common type of kidney tumor that is diagnosed. In renal cell carcinoma patients, abnormal growth of tumor cells is seen in the lining of the kidneys’ tubules. 

Renal pelvis carcinoma is another common kidney tumor type found in adults. This type of cancer affects the renal pelvis area, which is the area in the middle of the kidneys, where the top part of the ureter is located. As for young patients, they are often affected by a tumor known as Wilms’ tumor. Wilms’ tumor is the fourth most common cancer diagnosed in children. 

Adrenal cancer

Just above each kidney, an adrenal gland is located. The adrenal glands produce many important hormones, among which the most well-known ones are cortisol and adrenaline.

Although there are benign adenoma cases or a noncancerous adrenal tumor, the majority of adrenal cancer cases are identified as adrenal cortical carcinoma or a cancerous tumor.

The good news is that adrenal cancer is not a common occurrence in the United States. Although the exact number of cases remains unknown, researchers are guessing that it is not higher than 200 cases a year. 

In adrenal cancer patients, the symptoms are caused by the excess production of the gland’s hormones. Research suggests that adrenal cancer symptoms usually do not appear until the tumor is large enough to pressure the surrounding organs.

Doctors find it easier to spot such cancer in children as compared to adults, especially when it comes to the excess estrogen production during puberty. These are the most common symptoms of excess estrogen production due to adrenal cancer:

In males, the common symptoms are:

▪ Breast enlargement

▪ Breast tenderness, etc.

In females, the common symptoms are:

▪ Excess body and facial hair growth

▪ Early puberty

▪ Deepening of the voice, etc.

High blood pressure, high blood sugar levels, irregular periods, depression, and unintentional weight gain are the common symptoms of excess cortisol production due to adrenal tumor. As you can see, the symptoms variate depending on which hormone is being overly produced due to adrenal cancer. 

Bladder cancer

One of the most common urological cancers is bladder cancer. This urologic cancer affects the bladder, which is a hollow muscular organ where the urine is stored.

In the majority of cases, bladder cancer starts with the abnormal growth of the urothelial cells. The urothelial cells are the cells that line the inside of the bladder and the ureters. This is known as transitional cell carcinoma or urothelial carcinoma. 

An adenocarcinoma is not only a possibility in those with kidney cancer but also those with bladder cancer as well. In this case, the adenocarcinoma is a specific type of bladder case that affects the bladder’s mucus-secreting cells.

However, this type of bladder cancer is recognized as quite rare. And the third type of this urologic cancer is the squamous cell carcinoma. This type is associated with chronic irritation of the bladder. 

Each year, roughly 45,000 men and 17,000 women are affected by bladder cancer. The most obvious sign of bladder cancer is the presence of blood in the urine. Additional symptoms include:

  • Painful urination

  • Urinary incontinence

  • Frequent urination

  • Pain located in the lower back

  • Pain is located in the abdomen, etc.

Urethral cancer

Moving away from the bladder, we have urethral cancer as a part of the urological cancer group. Medical oncologists rarely see a case of urethral cancer. The reason for that is the urethral cancer being the rarest type of urological cancers. 

As the term suggests, urethral cancer affects the urethra. The urethra is the hollow tube that allows for urine to be eliminated by letting it pass from the bladder to the outside. In the early stages of urethral cancer, patients usually experience little to no symptoms whatsoever.

The first symptom reportedly is a lump or a growth on the urethra. The presence of blood in the urine and the inability to pass urine are frequently reported symptoms as well. 

Prostate cancer

Now let’s discuss the urological cancers specific to male patients, starting with prostate cancer. Prostate cancer is one of the most serious issues in urology.

This genitourinary cancer affects about 60% of the men older than the age of 65. But before we explain a bit more about prostate cancer, it is good to review some details regarding the prostate gland first. 

The prostate gland is a small endocrine gland located in the lower abdomen. This gland is specific for men only, similar to how the ovaries are only found in women.

The precise location of the prostate is under the bladder. The job of the prostate is to produce and secrete the seminal fluid. It is within the seminal fluid that the sperm is found. 

Prostate cancer represents an abnormal cell growth located in the prostate. In many cases, cancer then proceeds to spread to other organs as well, making this condition highly life-threatening. As the Urology Care Foundation suggests, prostate cancer is the second-leading cause of death among American men. 

Depending on how fast it grows, prostate cancer can be aggressive or nonaggressive. The non-aggressive type usually does not cause any symptoms whatsoever. It is aggressive and advanced prostate cancers that cause noticeable symptoms. In that case, the following symptoms may take place:

  • Frequent urination

  • Presence of blood in the urine

  • Erectile dysfunction

  • Pain is located in the pelvis, back, and/or chest, etc.

Penile cancer

Penile cancer is yet another of the rare cancer type in the urology area. In this case, the abnormal cell growth happens either on the skin of the penis or within the penis itself. Penile cancer is usually diagnosed among men after the age of 50.

There are a few different types of penile cancer, depending on where cancer cells’ growth has taken place. Squamous penile cancer cell accounts for up to 90% of the penile cancer cases.

In this case, cancer growth is located on the surface of the penis. Other rarer types of penile cancer include carcinoma in situ, melanoma, and adenocarcinoma of the penis. Penile cancer causes noticeable penile abnormalities, such as:

  • A growth/sore on the surface of the penis that has been present for 4 weeks

  • Presence of foul-smelling discharge

  • Rash on the penis

  • Bleeding from the penis, etc.

Testicular cancer

Testicular cancer is the last case of urological malignancy. In the case of testicular cancer, cancer cell growth may be present in one or both testicles.

The testicles are another example of male-specific endocrine, reproductive glands that are located inside the scrotum. This is where they produce testosterone and sperm daily, thus maintaining male reproductive health.

In the majority of cases, testicular cancer begins by affecting the germ cells. The germ cells are the cells inside the testicles whose job is to produce sperm.

Up to 90% of the testis cancer cases are actually germ cell tumors. There are seminomas and nonseminomas germ cell tumors. The nonseminomas germ cell tumor is much faster-growing than the seminomas one, and as such, it tends to spread to other body organs. 

In some men, testicular cancer causes no symptoms. When symptoms do appear, we often see the following symptoms:

Treatments for urological cancers

Once the urologist has suspected any of these issues, they will perform several medical exams. The purpose of the exams is to confirm the suspected issue and to eliminate other possible causes.

If the patient is showing any signs of prostate, penile, or testicular cancer, a urologic oncologist will be consulted. Urologic oncology is the medical field that diagnoses and treats urologic cancer cases. 

Before the doctor proceeds to treat any of these issues, a clear diagnosis is required. To do that, the doctor may perform any of the following tests.

  • Physical exam

  • Cystoscopy

  • Lab tests

  • MRI

  • X-ray

  • Ultrasound

  • CT scan

  • Biopsy, etc.

Speaking of the treatment, there are many possibilities when it comes to the available treatment methods of urology and medical oncology. The treatment plan depends fully on the diagnosis. Other factors such as the patient’s age, gender, general health status, etc. are considered as well.

Cancer care usually consists of one or a few of the following treatment options. Note that these are only some of the more popular treatment options. Additional treatments may be used as well.

  • Radiation therapy – is performed by radiation oncologists as a part of the department of radiation oncology. This is one of the most used techniques in cancer treatment. During radiation therapy, energy beams are used to destroy the present cancer cells.

  • Surgery – is another common treatment method. The exact type of surgery depends on the cancer itself. Some of the options include laparoscopic surgery, robotic-assisted surgery, Mohs surgery, etc. In the case of urological cancers, urologic surgeons are the ones that perform the surgery. 

  • Focal therapy – consists of non-invasive techniques commonly used among prostate cancer patients. With the use of focal therapy, it is possible to eliminate small tumors within the prostate gland while minimizing the side effects.

  • Chemotherapy – consists of the use of drugs to kill rapidly growing cancer cells. Usually, chemotherapy is injected as an IV and used in combination with radiation therapy.

  • Hormone therapy – is a common prostate cancer treatment method. It is used prior to radiation therapy to help shrink the present cancer cells as much as possible, thus increasing radiation therapy’s success rate later.

When to see a doctor

It is a good idea to consult your primary caregiver if you experience any of the previously mentioned symptoms. This is especially important for men over the age of 50 years old. If you have a medical and/or a family history of any urological cancers, you must report any symptoms to your doctor right away. 

Conclusion

Prostate cancer, urethral cancer, and bladder cancer are some of the terms closely associated with urological cancers. Each of these cancers poses a risk for the patient. Luckily, there is something to be done. Chemotherapy, surgery, and radiation therapy can help increase the treatment’s success rate. All that you need to do is recognize the early signs and ask for help.

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Sources

  1. Nabi, S., Kessler, E. R., Bernard, B., Flaig, T. W., & Lam, E. T. (2018). Renal cell carcinoma: A review of biology and pathophysiology. F1000Research, 7, 307. doi:10.12688/f1000research.13179.1
    Retrieved from https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5850086/
  2. Oeyen, E., Hoekx, L., Wachter, S. D., Baldewijns, M., Ameye, F., & Mertens, I. (2019). Bladder Cancer Diagnosis and Follow-Up: The Current Status and Possible Role of Extracellular Vesicles. International Journal of Molecular Sciences, 20(4), 821. doi:10.3390/ijms20040821
    Retrieved from https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC6412916/
  3. Nelen, V. (n.d.). Epidemiology of Prostate Cancer. Prostate Cancer Recent Results in Cancer Research, 1-8. doi:10.1007/978-3-540-40901-4_1
    Retrieved from https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC6497009/
  4. Hakenberg, O. W., Dräger, D. L., Erbersdobler, A., Naumann, C. M., Jünemann, K., & Protzel, C. (2018). The diagnosis and treatment of penile cancer. Deutsches Aerzteblatt Online. doi:10.3238/arztebl.2018.0646
    Retrieved from https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC6224543/
  5. Cassell, A., Jalloh, M., Ndoye, M., Yunusa, B., Mbodji, M., Diallo, A., . . . Gueye, S. (2020). Review of Testicular Tumor: Diagnostic Approach and Management Outcome in Africa. Research and Reports in Urology, Volume 12, 35-42. doi:10.2147/rru.s242398
    Retrieved from https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC7035899/

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