What is Urologic Cancer?

What is Urologic Cancer?

Urologic cancers affect the organs of the urinary tract—the bladder, kidneys, adrenal glands, ureter, and urethra, and in men, the prostate, testicles, and penis. They are among the most common cancers in the United States. Each year urologic oncologists diagnose more than 268,000 new cases of prostate cancer, 81,000 cases of bladder cancer, and 79,000 new cases of kidney cancer.

Types of Urologic Cancer


Types of urologic cancer include:

  • Prostate cancer: The prostate is a small gland that helps make semen. Most prostate cancers grow slowly, and almost all are the type called adenocarcinomas.
  • Bladder cancer: Cancerous tumors can form on the inside lining of the bladder, the sac-like organ that holds urine
  • Kidney cancer: The kidneys filter waste products from the blood and make urine to eliminate the waste. The most common type of kidney cancer, renal cell carcinoma, usually forms a single tumor.
  • Urethral cancer: The urethra is a thin tube that carries urine from the bladder to the outside of the body. Different types of cancer begin in cells that line the urethra.
  • Testicular cancer: The testicles (testes) make male hormones and sperm cells. There are many types of testicular cancer, with different treatments and prognoses (outlooks).
  • Penile cancer: Most penile cancers start in the skin cells of the penis, a reproductive organ. There are many types of penile cancers with different treatments available.

Signs & Symptoms of Urologic Cancer


Symptoms of urologic cancer depend on where the tumor is growing, the type and size of cancer, and how far it has spread. Symptoms can include:

  • Blood in the urine without pain is one of the first symptoms of bladder, kidney, and prostate cancer
  • Trouble with urination, or changes in sexual function, may also be a sign of bladder cancer or urethral cancer
  • Growths or sores on the skin may be symptoms of penile or testicular cancer

What Causes Urologic Cancer?


Urologic cancers occur when cells in one of the organs of the urinary system grow uncontrollably. The body's cells typically multiply as needed and die when they are damaged or worn out. DNA provides the instructions for these processes. A change in the DNA (genetic mutation) can cause cells to pile up and form a tumor, either from multiplying too much or failing to die at the right time. Mutations can be inherited or caused by exposure to a toxin in the environment. 

Most urologic cancers are not inherited. Many risk factors are associated with urologic cancers, especially smoking tobacco.

Risk Factors

Risk Factors

A risk factor is something that increases the chances of developing a disease such as cancer. Having one or more risk factors does not mean you will get cancer. Risk factors for urologic cancers include:

  • Smoking and other tobacco use - Toxins in tobacco can cause changes to the cells that line the bladder and increase the risk of all urologic cancers
  • Age - For most urologic cancers, risk increases with age, and cancer is diagnosed in people over 55; testicular cancer is usually diagnosed in younger men between ages 15 and 35
  • Exposure to chemicals at work - Industrial chemicals used in the dye industry, the manufacture of rubber, leather, textiles, and paint products, and in jobs such as machinist, printer, and hairdresser increase cancer risk
  • Gender - Risk depends on the cancer type. Men are more likely than women to develop bladder and kidney cancer; women are more likely than men to develop urethral cancer.
  • Previous cancer treatment - Having had another cancer (especially another urologic cancer) increases risk, as do specific cancer treatments such as radiation to the pelvis
  • Family history of cancer - A strong family history of cancer, especially one of the urologic cancers, increases risk of urologic cancer



There is no certain way to prevent urologic cancer, but taking these steps can help reduce risk:

  • Don't smoke or use other tobacco products
  • Eat a healthy diet with plenty of fruits, vegetables, and whole grains; avoid highly processed foods and sugary beverages
  • Avoid exposure to toxic chemicals
  • Drink plenty of fluids, especially water
  • Maintain a healthy weight
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