Risks for renal pelvis and ureter cancer

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Certain behaviours, substances or conditions can affect your risk, or chance, of developing cancer. Some things increase your risk and some things decrease it. Most cancers are the result of many risks. But sometimes cancer develops in people who don't have any risks.

Smoking tobacco is the main risk for renal pelvis or ureter cancer.

Cancer of the renal pelvis or ureter affects more men than women. It is more common in people older than 65 years of age.

The following can increase your risk for renal pelvis or ureter cancer. There are things you can do to lower your risk and help protect you from developing cancer.

Smoking tobacco

Phenacetin

Aristolochic acids

Balkan endemic nephropathy

Chronic kidney stones or infections

Lynch syndrome

Previous radiation therapy

Smoking tobacco

Smoking tobacco increases your risk for renal pelvis or ureter cancer. The more you smoke and the longer you smoke, the greater your risk. After you quit smoking, the risk decreases over time.

Learn more about how to live smoke-free.

Phenacetin

Phenacetin is a type of pain reliever. Medicines with phenacetin were banned in the early 1980s, so it is no longer likely to be a major risk. But people who took 3 or more phenacetin pills a day over several years have a higher risk for renal pelvis or ureter cancer.

Aristolochic acids

Aristolochic acids are found naturally in several types of plants. These plants may be used in some traditional Chinese medicines that treat arthritis and other diseases caused by inflammation in the body.

People who take herbal products with aristolochic acids have a higher risk for renal pelvis or ureter cancer, as well as greater risk for kidney damage.

Balkan endemic nephropathy

Balkan endemic nephropathy (BEN) is a serious kidney disease that only happens in clusters of villages in the Balkan area of Eastern Europe, including Serbia, Croatia, Bulgaria, Romania, Macedonia and Bosnia-Herzegovina. People with BEN have a higher risk of developing cancer of the renal pelvis or ureter.

Researchers think that there may be a gene that makes some people more likely to develop BEN if they eat foods with aristolochic acids.

Chronic kidney stones or infections

Kidney stones develop when mineral crystals in the urine (pee) stick together to form small, hard deposits. People who have a lot of kidney stones or kidney infections have a higher risk of developing squamous cell carcinoma, which is usually rare, in the renal pelvis or ureter.

Lynch syndrome

Lynch syndrome is an inherited condition that causes a large number of polyps to develop in the lining of the colon and rectum, but not as many polyps as are found in familial adenomatous polyps (FAP). Lynch syndrome is also called hereditary non-polyposis colorectal cancer (HNPCC).

There are 2 types of Lynch syndrome. Type A increases the risk for colorectal cancer. Type B increases the risk for several cancers, including colorectal cancer, other cancers of the digestive system and cancers of the urinary tract, such as renal pelvis or ureter cancer.

Previous radiation therapy

People who received radiation therapy to the abdomen or pelvis have a higher risk for renal pelvis or ureter cancer. People who are exposed to radiation at work or who have survived atomic bombs or nuclear accidents also have a higher risk for renal pelvis or ureter cancer.

Possible risks

The following have been linked with renal pelvis and ureter cancer, but there is not enough evidence to know for sure that they are risks. More research is needed.

  • arsenic

  • certain chemicals at work, such as aromatic amines (used in professional painting, rubber manufacturing, aluminum and metal production, and textile and dye manufacturing)

Understanding your cancer risk

To make the decisions that are right for you, ask your healthcare team questions about risks. Learn how cancer can be prevented and what you can do to reduce your risk.

Expert review and references

  • Canadian Cancer Society | Société canadienne du cancer
  • International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC). Volume 100A: Pharmaceuticals - A Review of Human Carcinogens. 2012: http://monographs.iarc.fr/ENG/Monographs/vol100A/mono100A.pdf.
  • National Toxicology Program . 14th Report on Carcinogens . Department of Health and Human Services ; 2016 .
  • Chow WH, Scelo G, Tarone RE. Renal cancer. Thun MJ, Linet MS, Cerhan JR, Haiman CA Schottenfeld D, eds.. Schottenfeld and Fraumeni Cancer Epidemiology and Prevention. 4th ed. New York, NY: Oxford University Press; 2018: 51.
  • van de Pol, JAA, van den Brandt PA, Schouten LJ. Kidney stones and the risk of renal cell carcinoma and upper tract urothelial carcinoma: the Netherlands Cohort Study. British Journal of Cancer. 2019: 120:368-374. https://www.nature.com/articles/s41416-018-0356-7.pdf.
  • International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC). Volume 100A: Pharmaceuticals: a review of human carcinogens. 2012: https://publications.iarc.fr/118.
  • Wischhusen JW, Ukaegbu C, Dhingra TG, Uno H, Kastrinos F, Syngal S, et al . Clinical factors associated with urinary tract cancer in individuals with Lynch syndrome. Cancer Epidemiology, Biomarkers and Prevention. 2020: https://cebp.aacrjournals.org/content/29/1/193. lacinilC.
  • International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC). Volume 100A-23: Plants containing aristolochic acid. 2018: https://monographs.iarc.who.int/wp-content/uploads/2018/06/mono100A-23.pdf.
  • International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC). Volume 100E: Personal Habits and Indoor Combustions. 2012: http://monographs.iarc.fr/ENG/Monographs/vol100E/mono100E.pdf.
  • Matic M, Dragicevic B, Pekmezovic T, et al . Common Polymorphisms in GSTA1, GSTM1 and GSTT1 are associated with susceptibility to urinary bladder cancer in individuals from Balkan Endemic Nephropathy areas of Serbia. Tohoku Journal of Experimental Medicine. 2016: https://www.jstage.jst.go.jp/article/tjem/240/1/240_25/_article.
  • National Cancer Institute. Transitional Cell Cancer of the Renal Pelvis and Ureter Treatment for Health Professionals (PDQ®). 2015.
  • Stiborova M, Arlt VM, Schmeiser HH . Balkan endemic nephropathy: an update on its aetiology. Archives of Toxicology. 2016.

Reducing your risk for renal pelvis and ureter cancer

You may lower your risk of developing renal pelvis and ureter cancer by doing the following.