Urologic Cancers

What are urologic cancers?

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Urologic cancer is an inclusive term for the cancers that can develop in the urinary tract, kidneys, testicles, prostate, or penis. Cancers are named after the parts of the body where they begin. For example, kidney cancer starts in the kidney, but can spread to other parts of the body depending on the aggressiveness of the cancer, and when the patient was diagnosed and treated. Because not all men have the same reproductive system, urologic cancers can affect anyone with a urinary tract, penis, prostate, or testicles.

What are the different kinds of urologic cancers?

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There are six main types of urologic cancer, some of which have further classification if there is more than one form for that cancer to take. Urologic cancers include urethral cancer, bladder cancer, kidney cancer, testicular cancer, prostate cancer, and penile cancer.

  • Urethral cancer begins in the urethra, a hollow tube where urine passes from the bladder to outside of the body. Urethral cancer is the most rare form of urologic cancer.
  • Bladder cancer begins in the bladder, the organ that holds urine. There are three types of bladder cancer: transitional cell carcinoma, squamous cell carcinoma, and adenocarcinoma.
  • Kidney cancer begins in the kidneys, two organs that filter waste and create urine. The three most common types of kidney cancer are renal cell carcinoma, renal pelvis carcinoma, and Wilms’ tumor. Other types of kidney cancer exist, but are extremely rare.
  • Testicular cancer begins in the testicles. The testicles, or testes, are the reproductive glands located inside the scrotum. Testicular cancer is a fairly common form of urologic cancer, especially in the age range of 15-35.
  • Prostate cancer begins in the prostate, a small gland found underneath the bladder and surrounding the urethra. Prostate cancer is most common in patients over 35, and especially common in patients over the age of 65.
  • Penile cancer begins in the skin and tissues of the penis, a reproductive organ. Penile cancer is a relatively rare form of urologic cancer.

What causes urologic cancers?

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The most direct answer is that urologic cancer is caused by fast and abnormal cell growth in the urinary tract, kidneys, testicles, prostate, or penis. However, the causes of urologic cancers are largely unknown. Urologic cancers are fairly common, with many overlapping risk factors or groups (see below). These risk factors or groups can influence a patient’s risk of urologic cancer, but the only uniting cause of urologic cancers is uncontrolled cell growth.

What are common symptoms of urologic cancers?

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Because the causes of urologic cancers are unknown, it is important for patients at risk of urologic cancers to watch for symptoms. Routine scans of these areas can help a patient discover their baseline and better identify deviations from the norm.


  • Symptoms of urethral cancer include a lump on the urethra and pain or bleeding during urination.
  • Symptoms of bladder cancer include pain or bleeding during urination, frequent or urgent urination, urinary incontinence, or pain in the abdomen and lower back.
  • Symptoms of kidney cancer include back pain just below the ribs, abdominal pain or swelling, bleeding during urination, an abdominal lump, anemia, fever, or severe weight loss.
  • Symptoms of testicular cancer include testicular pain, discomfort, or swelling, back or abdominal pain, or growth of breast tissue.
  • Symptoms of prostate cancer include frequent urination, bleeding during urination, erectile dysfunction, or pain and numbness in the pelvis, back, or chest.
  • Symptoms of penile cancer include a lump or infected sore on the penis, redness, itching, burning, discharge, bleeding, thickening of the penile skin, changes in the color of the penis, or swollen lymph nodes in the groin.

Are there any risk factors or groups for urologic cancers?

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Anyone with a urinary tract, kidneys, testicles, prostate, or penis is at risk for urologic cancers. Though there is some overlap between risk factors or groups for urologic cancer, each type of urologic cancer has its own particular set of risk factors or groups.


  • Urethral cancer risk factors or groups include being over 60 years old, being African American or Black, having human papillomavirus (HPV) or a history of other sexually transmitted diseases (STD), frequent urinary tract infections (UTI), or a history of other urinary cancers, like bladder cancer.
  • Bladder cancer risk factors or groups include being over 55 years old, being white, being male, frequent bladder infections, having a high-fat diet, overall low liquid consumption, exposure to cancerous chemicals, exposure to Cytoxan (a chemotherapy drug), exposure to radiation treatment in the pelvic area, and a family history of bladder cancer.
  • Kidney cancer risk factors or groups include being over 60 years old, being male, obesity, smoking, hypertension, exposure to cancerous chemicals, history of kidney disease, and a family history of kidney cancer.
  • Testicular cancer risk factors or groups include being white, abnormal testicular development, having cryptorchidism (an undescended testicle), and a family history of testicular cancer.
  • Prostate cancer risk factors or groups include being over 60 years old, being African American or Black, obesity, and having a family history of prostate cancer.
  • Penile cancer risk factors or groups include being over 60 years old, smoking, being uncircumcised, having HPV or AIDS, and practicing poor personal hygiene.

What are common treatments for urologic cancers?

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Treatment plans for patients with urologic cancer are determined by the type of cancer and which stage it has reached. Doctors will also consider the patient’s symptoms, overall health, and age. Common treatments for urologic cancers include chemotherapy, surgery, hormone therapy, stereotactic radiotherapy, radiation, cryotherapy, and immunotherapy.


These treatments are used widely across the various types of urologic cancer, but no patient is the same. Treatment could vary based on how aggressive the cancer is, the health of the patient, or any number of possible factors.

When should a person see a doctor for urologic cancers?

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Patients who have the potential for developing a form of urologic cancer should see a doctor as soon as symptoms start to develop. An effective treatment plan is one started as soon as possible, which means that a patient experiencing abnormal symptoms should see a doctor as soon as symptoms are identified. Urologic cancer is not always identified by the presence of symptoms. For example, some forms of urologic cancer can be nonaggressive, which means that symptoms might not present at all. Knowledge of the risk factors and groups for urologic cancers can help patients understand if screening is necessary, even without experiencing symptoms.


Regular screening is advised for at-risk patients at different ages, depending on which urologic cancer could be present. The screening recommendations are based on a patient’s family history of urologic cancer, overall health, and age. Interested patients should discuss if screening is the right decision with a doctor, as some screenings can result in a misdiagnosis of urologic cancers. Involving a doctor in each step of the process is recommended for any patient at risk for urologic cancers.

What is the outlook for people living with urologic cancers?

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The best indicator of survival for patients with urologic cancers are early detection of the cancer and a strictly followed treatment plan. Survival rates differ greatly based on which type of urologic cancer a patient has, as well as what stage the cancer has reached at the point of diagnosis. For this reason, it is imperative that anyone at risk of urologic cancer is routinely checking for symptoms, and seeing a doctor if symptoms develop.


Patients who have undergone treatment for urologic cancer will likely see a doctor twice a year following treatment. The likelihood of recurrence is most influenced by how much the cancer spread before and during treatment. Patients might have additional risk of urologic cancers returning if their health is complicated by another condition. For example, patients with kidney cancer might find their health complicated by high blood pressure.


Some types of and treatments for urologic cancer can impact fertility. Patients can make a fertility plan with doctors prior to treatment.