Your kidneys filter blood to produce urine, which is carried by tubes called ureters to the bladder. The junction between a kidney and ureter forms a funnel-shaped renal pelvis. Transitional cells are specialised cells that line the renal pelvis and ureters, and have the ability to stretch without damage. Uncontrolled growth of these cells forms transitional cell cancer or malignant neoplasm of the ureter.
Though the cause is not fully understood, this rare form of cancer has been associated with genetics, smoking, prolonged use of certain pain or over-the-counter medications, or exposure to certain industrial chemicals.
Early-stage transitional cell cancer does not show any symptoms. As the cancer grows and spreads (metastasis), symptoms such as persistent back pain, unexplained weight loss, and painful or frequent urination with blood usually occur.
Transitional cell cancer is difficult to diagnose. When you present to the clinic, your doctor will review your symptoms and history, and perform a physical examination. Your urine will be tested for blood, bacteria and protein. Depending on the results, a more detailed examination such as ureteroscopy may be performed in which a tube connected to a light source is used to examine your ureters and kidneys. Other imaging tests such as a CT, MRI, or ultrasound may also be ordered. A sample of tissue may be removed for further examination (biopsy).
Treatment for transitional cell cancer depends on the size and location of the tumour and how far if it has metastasised or spread to other parts of the body. Cancer in the renal pelvis usually spreads quickly to the rest of the kidney and requires aggressive treatment. Transitional cell cancer may be treated by either removing the kidney, ureter and bladder on the affected side (nephroureterectomy) or removing only the cancerous tissue in the ureter (segmental resection). Your doctor will discuss the best options depending on your particular case.