How are muscle invasive (T2) and locally advanced (T3, T4) urothelial tumors of the renal pelvis and ureters treated?

Updated: Aug 07, 2020
  • Author: Kyle A Richards, MD, FACS; Chief Editor: Bradley Fields Schwartz, DO, FACS  more...
  • Print


MVAC (methotrexatevinblastine, doxorubicin [Adriamycin], cisplatin) was once considered standard treatment. However, this combination yields only a modest survival advantage, and optimal dosing is often limited owing to severe toxicity.

The combination of gemcitabine with cisplatin yields response rates, time to progression, and survival rates similar to those of MVAC, but with less toxicity. Gemcitabine with cisplatin is now considered first-line therapy.

Adjuvant and neoadjuvant chemotherapy

The use and potential benefit of both adjuvant and neoadjuvant chemotherapy is largely extrapolated from bladder cancer data and retrospective chart reviews, but recent studies have suggested a potential for benefit (see Table 2, below). A recurrence-free rate as high as 50% has been demonstrated; however, a survival benefit has not yet been definitively proved. Studies addressing the issue have few patients and are nonrandomized. [32] One important consideration is the use of neoadjuvant rather than adjuvant chemotherapy in this unique population, as removal of the kidney frequently has a direct impact on the patient's capacity to undergo chemotherapy, due to decreased renal function.


Table 2. Adjuvant and Neoadjuvant Trials for Upper Tract Transitional Cell Carcinoma. (Open Table in a new window)


Study design


Number of patients enrolled

Leow JJ, Martin-Doyle W, Fay AP, et al. 2014


Systematic review and meta analysis

Pooled hazard ratio (HR) for overall survival (OS) was 0.43 (95% confidence interval [CI], 0.21–0.89; P = 0.023) for adjuvant therapy group compared with controls without adjuvant therapy

Prospective study (n = 36) investigating adjuvant carboplatin–paclitaxel and nine retrospective studies, with a total of 482 patients receiving cisplatin-based or non-cisplatin–based AC after nephroureterectomy

Porten S, Siefker-Radtke AO, Xiao L, et al. 2014


Retrospective review between neoadjuvant chemotherapy group and initial surgery group

Neoadjuvant chemotherapy had improved OS and disease-specific survival (DSS) with a 5-year DSS rate of 90.1% and a 5-year OS rate of 80.2% versus DSS and OS rates of 57.6% for those who underwent initial surgery (P = 0.0204 and P = 0.0015, respectively

Neoadjuvant chemotherapy +surgery (n =31) and surgery  only (n= 81)


Huang YC, Chen MF, Shi CS, et al. 2015


Retrospective review of  patient records  with pT3N0M0 upper tract urothelial carcinoma (UTUC) treated with radical nephroureterectomy and adjuvant therapy versus control group

Statistically significant differences were found between the adjuvant and control groups in 5-year cancer-specific survival rates (80.5% vs 57.6%, P = 0.010) and recurrence-free survival rates (74.4% vs 52.9%, P = 0.026), but no statistically significant difference in overall survival (71.9% vs 49.0%, P = 0.072)

Postoperative adjuvant chemotherapy (n= 60) vs surgery only (n=111)

Urakami S, Yuasa T, Yamamoto S, et al.2015

Retrospective analysis of  clinicopathological response to induction chemotherapy and identification of  prognostic factors for OS

Clinically objective response to the induction chemotherapy occurred in 75% of patients. Histopathological analysis indicated pT0 status in 20% and pN0 in 33%. Clinical tumor response correlated significantly with achievement of pathological complete response

 60 urothelial cancer patients; primary cancer site was the urinary bladder (n= 31; 52%) and upper urinary tract (n=29; 48%)

Lucca I, Kassouf W, Kapoor A, et al. 2015


Retrospective analysis of data of patients with lymph node (LN)–positive UTUC, who underwent full surgical resection followed by adjuvant chemotherapy (AC)

In all patients (T(all) N+), administration of AC had no significant impact on UTUC-related mortality on univariable (P = 0.49) and multivariable (P = 0.11) analysis. Further stratified analyses showed that only N+ patients with pT3-4 disease benefited from AC. In this subgroup, AC reduced UTUC-related mortality by 34% (P = 0.019).

263 patients with LN-positive UTUC underwent full surgical resection. Study group (n=107, 41%) received three to six cycles of AC, while controls (n=156; 59.3%) were treated with RNU alone

Kim DK, Kim JW, Jung HD, et al.2019

Systematic review and meta analysis of adjuvant therapy after radical nephroureterectomy (RNU) in patients with locally advanced UTUC


Compared with patients who underwent RNU only, those who received adjuvant chemotherapy after RNU had HRs for disease-free survival of 0.59 (P = 0.001), cancer-specific survival of 0.73 (P = 0.02), and OS of 0.84 (P = 0.02) 

11 studies, comprising 1496 patients who underwent RNU alone and 798 patients who received ACH after RNU




Prospective phase II trial of neoadjuvant systemic chemotherapy followed by extirpative surgery for patients with high-grade UTUC


Expected to complete by Feb 2020



Prospective phase II study of gemcitabine and cisplatin as neoadjuvant chemotherapy in patients with high-grade UTUC

Expected to complete by Dec 2020


In the Upper Tract Urothelial Carcinoma Collaboration, the use of adjuvant chemotherapy did not result in longer cancer-specific survival; however, in that study, the patients who received chemotherapy had higher grade and stage disease (P < 0.001). The study included 1390 total patients; 542 were identified as high-risk (pT3N0, pT4N0, and/or N+) and 121 (22%) received adjuvant therapy. [33]

A compelling study in which patients with biopsy-proven high-grade disease who received neoadjuvant chemotherapy were compared against historical controls noted a complete response in 14% of patients and and a significant rate of downstaging. [34] This is noteworthy, as neoadjuvant therapy potentially provided a cure in patients who otherwise are at very high risk.

Neoadjuvant chemotherapy has been shown to confer survival advantage in two retrospective studies. Urakami et al concluded that clinical response of the tumor to neoadjuvant chemotherapy predicts the survival outcome in urothelial carcinoma with clinical lymph node metastasis treated with consolidative surgery. [35] In a retrospective cohort study by Porten et al, patients treated with neoadjuvant chemotherapy had 5-year disease-specific survival of 90% vs 58% without it. [36]

The findings from those non-randomizd studies will be the highest level of evidence supporting a survival benefit for neoadjuvant chemotherapy until the data from the two prospective studies currently in progress (NCT02412670 and NCT01261728) become available. Adjuvant chemotherapy use is limited by renal insufficiency or performance status after nephroureterectomy, as discussed below.

Radiation therapy

Radiation can play a palliative role in controlling pain and hemorrhage associated with advanced upper tract urothelial carcinoma.

Czito et al reported on the use of adjuvant radiotherapy after resection of T3 or T4 and/or node-positive upper tract TCC. In this retrospective analysis of 31 patients treated from 1970-1997, radiation with concurrent cisplatin chemotherapy improved 5-year survival rates. [37]

Prospective studies are needed to better define the role of radiation therapy in the multimodal management of upper tract TCC.

Did this answer your question?
Additional feedback? (Optional)
Thank you for your feedback!