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Renal-Urinary Cancers

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Kidney Cancer


Historically, kidney cancer has been used to mean either all malignancies of the renal system (renal cell carcinoma (RCC), ICD-9 189.0; renal pelvis, ICD-9 189.1; and ureter, ICD-9 189.2) or RCC only. This categorization has led to some confusion in epidemiological studies, resulting in a need to scrutinize previously reported data. RCC comprises 75 to 80% of the total, with the remainder being primarily transitional cell carcinomas of the renal pelvis and ureter. Separation of these two cancer types is appropriate since the pathogenesis of RCC and of transitional cell carcinoma is quite different, and epidemiological risk factors are distinct as are the signs and symptoms of the two diseases. This section focuses on RCC.

The major identified risk factor for kidney cancer is tobacco smoking, followed by suspected but poorly defined occupational and environmental risk factors. It is estimated that the elimination of tobacco smoking would decrease the incidence of kidney cancer by 30 to 40% in industrialized countries, but occupational determinants of RCC are not well established. The population attributable risk due to occupational exposures has been estimated to be between zero, based on recognized carcinogenesis, and 21%, based on a multicentric multisite case-control study in the Montreal area of Canada. Early biomarkers of effect in association with biomarkers of exposure should assist in clarifying important risk factors. Several occupations and industries have been found in epidemiological studies to entail an increased risk of renal cancer. However, with the possible exception of agents used in dry cleaning and exposures in petroleum refining, the available evidence is not consistent. Statistical analysis of epidemiological exposure data in relation to biomarkers of susceptibility and effect will clarify additional aetiological causes.

Several epidemiological studies have associated specific industries, occupations and occupational exposures with increased risks of renal cell carcinoma. The pattern that emerges from these studies is not fully consistent. Oil refining, printing, dry cleaning and truck driving are examples of jobs associated with excess risk of kidney cancer. Farmers usually display decreased risk of RCC, but a Danish study linked long-term exposure to insecticides and herbicides with an almost fourfold excess of RCC risk. This finding requires confirmation in independent data, including specification of the possible causal nature of the association. Other products suspected of being associated with RCC include: various hydrocarbon derivatives and solvents; products of oil refining; petroleum, tar and pitch products; gasoline exhaust; jet fuel; jet and diesel engine emissions; arsenic compounds; cadmium; chromium (VI) compounds; inorganic lead compounds; and asbestos. Epidemiological studies have associated occupational gasoline vapour exposure with kidney cancer risk, some in a dose-response fashion, a phenomenon observed in the male rat for unleaded gasoline vapour exposure. These findings gain some potential weight, given the widespread human exposure to gasoline vapours in retail service stations and the recent increase in kidney cancer incidence. Gasoline is a complex mixture of hydrocarbons and additives, including benzene, which is a known human carcinogen.

The risk of kidney cancer is not consistently linked with social class, although increased risk has occasionally been associated with higher socio-economic status. However, in some populations a reverse gradient was observed, and in yet others, no clear pattern emerged. Possibly these variations may be related to lifestyle. Studies with migrant people show modification in RCC risk towards the level of the host country population, suggesting that environmental factors are important in the development of this malignancy.

Except for nephroblastoma (Wilms’ tumour), which is a childhood cancer, kidney cancer usually occurs after 40 years of age. An estimated 127,000 new cases of kidney cancer (including RCC and transitional cell carcinoma (TCC) of the renal pelvis and ureter), corresponding to 1.7% of the world total cancer incidence, occurred globally in 1985. The incidence of kidney cancer varies among populations. High rates have been reported for both men and women in North America, Europe, Australia and New Zealand; low rates in Melanesia, middle and eastern Africa and southeastern and eastern Asia. The incidence of kidney cancer has been increasing in most western countries, but stagnated in a few. Age-standardized incidence of kidney cancer in 1985 was highest in North America and western, northern and eastern Europe, and lowest in Africa, Asia (except in Japanese men) and the Pacific. Kidney cancer is more frequent in men than in women and ranks among the ten most frequent cancers in a number of countries.

Transitional cell carcinoma (TCC) of the renal pelvis is associated with similar aetiological agents as bladder cancer, including chronic infection, stones and phenacetin-containing analgesics. Balkan nephropathy, a slowly progressive, chronic and fatal nephropathy prevalent in the Balkan countries, is associated with high rates of tumours of the renal pelvis and ureter. The causes of Balkan nephropathy are unknown. Excessive exposure to ochratoxin A, which is considered possibly carcinogenic to humans, has been associated with the development of Balkan nephropathy, but the role of other nephrotoxic agents cannot be excluded. Ochratoxin A is a toxin produced by fungi which can be found in many food stuffs, particularly cereals and pork products.

Screening and diagnosis of kidney cancer

The sign and symptom pattern of RCC varies among patients, even up to the stage when metastasis appears. Because of the location of the kidneys and the mobility of contiguous organs to the expanding mass, these tumours are frequently very large at the  time  of  clinical  detection.  Although  haematuria  is  the primary symptom of RCC, bleeding occurs late compared to transitional cell tumours because of the intra-renal location of RCC. RCC has been considered the “medical doctor’s dream” but the “surgeon’s curse” because of the interesting constellation of symptoms related to paraneoplastic syndromes. Substances that increase the red blood cell count, calcium and factors which mimic abnormal adrenal gland function have been reported, and abdominal mass, weight loss, fatigue, pain, anaemia, abnormal liver function and hypertension have all been observed. Computerized axial tomography (CAT scan) of the abdomen and ultrasound are being ordered by physicians with increased frequency so, consequently, it is estimated that 20% of RCCs are diagnosed serendipitously as a result of evaluation for other medical problems.

Clinical evaluation of an RCC case consists of a physical examination to identify a flank mass, which occurs in 10% of patients. A kidney x ray with contrast may delineate a renal mass and the solid or cystic nature is usually clarified by ultrasound or CAT scan. The tumours are highly vascular and have a characteristic appearance when the artery is injected with radio-opaque contrast material. Arteriography is performed to embolize the tumour if it is very large or to define the arterial blood supply if a partial nephrectomy is anticipated. Fine-needle aspiration may be used to sample suspect RCC.

Localized RCC tumours are surgically removed with regional lymph nodes and, operatively, early ligation of the artery and vein is important. Symptomatically, the patient may be improved by removing large or bleeding tumours that have metastasized, but this does not improve survival. For metastatic tumours, localized pain control may be achieved with radiation therapy but the treatment of choice for metastatic disease is biological response modifiers (Interleukin-2 or α-interferon), although chemotherapy is occasionally used alone or in combination with other therapies.

Markers such as the cancer gene on chromosome 3 observed in cancer families and in von Hippel-Lindau disease may serve as biomarkers of susceptibility. Although tumour marker antigens have been reported for RCC, there is currently no way to detect these reliably in the urine or blood with adequate sensitivity and specificity. The low prevalence of this disease in the general population requires a high specificity and sensitivity test for early disease detection. Occupational cohorts at risk could potentially be screened with ultrasound. Evaluation of this tumour remains a challenge  to  the  basic  scientist,  molecular  epidemiologist  and clinician alike.

Bladder Cancer


More than 90% of bladder cancers in Europe and North America are transitional cell carcinomas (TCC). Squamous cell carcinoma and adenocarcinoma account for 5 and 1%, respectively, of bladder cancer in these regions. The distribution of histopathological types in bladder cancer is strikingly different in regions such as the Middle East and Africa where bladder cancer is associated with schistosomal infection. For instance, in Egypt, where schistosomiasis is endemic and bladder cancer is the major oncogenic problem, the most common type is squamous cell carcinoma, but the incidence of TCC is increasing with the rising prevalence of cigarette smoking. The discussion which follows focuses on TCC.

Bladder cancer continues to be a disease of significant importance. It accounted for about 3.5% of all malignancies in the world in 1980. In 1985, bladder cancer was estimated to be 11th in frequency on a global scale, being the eighth most frequent cancer among men, with an expected total of 243,000 new cases. There is a peak incidence in the seventh decade of life, and worldwide the male to female ratio is around three to one. Incidence has been increasing in almost all populations in Europe, particularly in men. In Denmark, where annual incidence rates are among the highest in the world, at 45 per 100,000 in men and 12 per 100,000 in women, the recent trend has been a further rise of 8 to 9% every 5 years. In Asia, the very high rates among the Chinese in Hong Kong have declined steadily, but in both sexes bladder cancer incidence is still much higher than elsewhere in Asia and more than twice as high as that among the Chinese in Shanghai or Singapore. Bladder cancer rates among the Chinese in Hawaii are also high.

Cigarette smoking is the single most important aetiological factor in bladder cancer, and occupational exposures rank second. It has been estimated that tobacco is responsible for one-third of all bladder cancer cases outside of regions where schistosomal infection is prevalent. The number of bladder cancer cases attributed in 1985 to tobacco smoking has been estimated at more than 75,000 worldwide, and may account for 50% of bladder cancer in western populations. The fact that all individuals who smoke similar amounts do not develop bladder cancer at the same rate suggests genetic factors are important in controlling the susceptibility. Two aromatic amines, 4-aminobiphenyl and 2-naphthylamine, are carcinogens associated with cigarette smoking; these are found in higher concentrations in “black tobacco” (air-cured) than in “blend tobacco” (flue-cured). Passive smoke increases the adducts in the blood and a dose-response of adduct formation has been correlated with increased risk of bladder cancer. Higher levels of adduct formation have been observed in cigarette smokers who are slow acetylators compared to fast acetylators, which suggests that genetically inherited acetylation status may be an important biomarker of susceptibility. The lower incidence of bladder cancer in Black compared to White races may be attributed to conjugation of carcinogenic metabolic intermediates by sulphotransferases that produce electrophiles. Detoxified phenolic sulphates may protect the urothelium. Liver sulphotransferase activity for N-hydroxyarylamines has been reported to be higher in Blacks than Whites. This may result in a decrease in the amount of free N-hydroxymetabolites to function as carcinogens.

Occupational bladder cancer is one of the earliest known and best  documented  occupational  cancers.  The  first  identified case of occupational bladder cancer appeared some 20 years after the inception of the synthetic dye industry in Germany. Numerous  other  occupations  have  been  identified  in  the  last  25 years as occupational bladder cancer risks. Occupational exposures may contribute to up to 20% of bladder cancers. Workers occupationally exposed include those working with coal-tar pitches, coal gasification and production of rubber, aluminium, auramine and magenta, as well as those working as hairdressers and barbers. Aromatic amines have been shown to cause bladder cancer in workers in many countries. Notable among this class of chemicals are 2-naphthylamine, benzidine, 4-nitrobiphenyl and 3,3r´-dichlorobenzidine. Two other aromatic amines, 4,4´-methylene dianiline (MDA) and 4,4´-methylene-bis-2-chloroaniline (MOCA) are among the most widely used of the suspected bladder carcinogens. Other carcinogens associated with industrial exposures are largely undetermined; however, aromatic amines are frequently present in the workplace.

Screening and diagnosis of bladder cancer

Screening for bladder cancer continues to receive attention in the quest to diagnose bladder cancer before it becomes symptomatic and, presumably, less amenable to curative treatment. Voided urine cytology and urinalysis for haematuria have been considered candidate screening tests. A pivotal question for screening is how to identify high-risk groups and then individuals within these groups. Epidemiological studies identify groups at risk while biomarkers potentially identify individuals within groups. In general, occupational screening for bladder cancer with haematuria testing and Papanicolaou cytology has been ineffective.

Improved detection of bladder cancer may be possible using the 14-day hemastick testing described by Messing and co-workers. A positive test was observed at least once in 84% of 31 patients with bladder cancer at least 2 months prior to the cystoscopic diagnosis of disease. This test suffers from a false-positive rate of 16 to 20% with half of these patients having no urological disease. The low cost may make this a useful test in a two-tier screen in combination with biomarkers and cytology (Waples and Messing 1992).

In a recent study, the DD23 monoclonal antibody using quantitative fluorescence image analysis detected bladder cancer in exfoliated uroepithelial cells. A sensitivity of 85% and specificity of 95% were achieved in a mixture of low- and high-grade transitional cell carcinomas including TaT1 tumours. The M344 tumour-associated antigen in conjunction with DNA ploidy had a sensitivity approaching 90%.

Recent studies indicate combining biomarkers with haematuria testing may be the best approach. A list of the applications of quantitative fluorescence urinary cytology in combination with biomarkers is summarized in Table 1. Genetic, biochemical and morphological early cell changes associated with premalignant conditions support the concept that individuals at risk can be identified years in advance of the development of overt malignancy. Biomarkers of susceptibility in combination with biomarkers of effect promise to detect individuals at risk with an even higher precision. These advances are made possible by new technologies capable of quantitating phenotypic and genotypic molecular changes at the single cell level thus identifying individuals at risk. Individual risk assessment facilitates stratified, cost-effective monitoring of selected groups for targeted chemoprevention.

Table 1. Applications of urinary cytology

Detection of CIS1 and bladder cancer

Monitoring surgical therapy:

Monitoring bladder following TURBT2
Monitoring upper urinary tract
Monitoring urethral remnant
Monitoring urinary diversion

Monitoring intravesical therapy

Selecting intravesical therapy

Monitoring effect of laser therapy

Evaluation of patients with haematuria

Establishing need for cystoscopy

Screening high-risk populations:
Occupational exposure groups
Drug abuse groups at risk for bladder cancer

Decision criteria for:
Segmental ureteral resection versus nephroureterectomy

Other indications:
Detecting vesicoenteric fistula
Extraurological tumours invading the urinary tract
Defining effective chemopreventive agents
Monitoring effective chemotherapy

1 CIS, carcinoma in situ.

2 TURBT, transurethral resection for bladder tumour.
Source: Hemstreet et al. 1996.


Signs and symptoms of bladder cancer are similar to those of urinary tract infection and may include pain on urination, frequent voiding and blood and pus cells in the urine. Because symptoms of a urinary tract infection may herald a bladder tumour particularly when associated with gross haematuria in older patients, confirmation of the presence of bacteria and a keen awareness by the examining physician is needed. Any patient treated for a urinary tract infection which does not resolve immediately should be referred to a urology specialist for further evaluation.

Diagnostic evaluation of bladder cancer first requires an intravenous pyelogram (IVP) to exclude upper tract disease in the renal pelvis or ureters. Confirmation of bladder cancer requires looking in the bladder with a light (cystoscope) with multiple biopsies performed with a lighted instrument through the urethra to determine if the tumour is non-invasive (i.e., papillary or CIS) or invasive. Random biopsies of the bladder and prostatic urethra help to define field cancerization and field effect changes. Patients with  non-invasive  disease  require  close  monitoring,  as  they are at risk of subsequent recurrences, although stage and grade progression are uncommon. Patients who present with bladder cancer that is already high-grade or invasive into the lamina propria are at equally high risk of recurrence but stage progression is much more likely. Thus, they usually receive intravesical instillation of immuno- or chemotherapeutic agents following transurethral resection. Patients with tumours invading the muscularis propria or beyond are much more likely to have metastasis already and can rarely be managed by conservative means. However, even when treated by total cystectomy (the standard therapy for muscle-invading bladder cancer), 20 to 60% eventually succumb to their disease, almost always due to metastasis. When regional or distal metastasis is present at diagnosis, the 5-year survival rates drop to 35 and 9%, respectively, despite aggressive treatment. Systemic chemotherapy for metastatic bladder cancer is improving with complete response rates reported at 30%. Recent studies suggest chemotherapy prior to cystectomy may improve survival in selected patients.

Bladder cancer staging is predictive of the biological potential for progression, metastasis, or recurrence in 70% of the cases. Staging of bladder cancer usually requires CAT scan to rule out liver metastasis, radioisotope bone scan to exclude spread to the bone, and chest x ray or CAT scan to exclude lung metastasis. A search continues for biomarkers in the tumour and the bladder cancer field that will predict which tumours will metastasize or recur. The accessibility of exfoliated bladder cells in voided specimens shows promise for using biomarkers for monitoring recurrence and for cancer prevention.



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Renal-Urinary System References

Committee on Biological Markers of the National Research Council. 1987. Biological markers in environmental health research. Environ Health Persp 74:3-9.

Crepet, M. 1983. In ILO Encyclopaedia of Occupational Health and Safety. Geneva: International Labour Office (ILO).

Hemstreet, G, R Bonner, R Hurst, and G O’Dowd. 1996. Cytology of bladder cancer. In Comprehensive Textbook of Genitourinary Oncology, edited by NJ Vogelzang, Wu Shipley, PT Scardino, and DS Coffey. Baltimore: Williams & Wilkins.

National Research Council. 1995. Biological Markers in Urinary Toxicology. Washington, DC: National Academy Press.

Schulte, PA, K Ringen, GP Hemstreet, and E Ward. 1987. Exposure: Occupational cancer of the urinary tract. In Occupational Cancer and Carcinogenesis. Philadelphia: Hanley & Belfus.

Tarloff, JB and RS Goldstein. 1994. Biochemical mechanisms of renal toxicity. In Introduction to Biochemical Toxicology, edited by E Hodgson and PE Levi. E. Norwalk, Conn.: Appleton and Lange.

Waples, M and EM Messing. 1992. The management of stage T1, grade 3 transitional cell carcinoma of the bladder. In Advances in Urology. St. Louis: Mosby.

Wyker, A. 1991. Standard diagnostic considerations. In Adult and Pediatric Urology, edited by JY Gillenwater et al. (3rd edn. 1996). St. Louis: Mosby.