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This section on urologic cancers includes:

Bladder Cancer

The bladder is a hollow organ in the lower abdomen that stores urine. The kidneys filter waste from the blood and produce urine, which enters the bladder through two tubes called ureters. Urine leaves the bladder through another tube, the urethra. In women, the urethra is a short tube that opens just in front of the vagina. In men, it is longer, passing through the prostate gland and then through the penis.

The most common warning sign of bladder cancer is blood in the urine. Pain during urination can also be a sign of bladder cancer. A need to urinate often or urgently may be another warning sign.

To diagnose bladder cancer the doctor will perform a physical examination. Sometimes the doctor can feel a large tumor during a rectal or vaginal exam.

The doctor may order an x-ray called an intravenous pyelogram (IVP) which lets the doctor observe the kidneys, ureters, and bladder.

Another diagnostic tool is looking into the bladder with an instrument called a cystoscope. A thin, lighted tube is inserted into the bladder through the urethra. If the doctor sees anything abnormal tissue samples can be obtained through the cystoscope. A biopsy of this tissue will determine if bladder cancer is present.

Treatments can include surgery, chemotherapy, or radiation or a combination of these. See our list of resources.

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Kidney Cancer

The kidneys are part of the urinary tract. They are a pair of organs found just above the waist on each side of the spine. As blood flows through the kidneys, they filter waste products, chemicals, and unneeded water from the blood. Urine collects in the middle of each kidney and then is drained to the bladder where it is stored.

The most common symptom of kidney cancer is blood in the urine. Another symptom is a lump or mass that can be felt in the kidney area. The tumor may cause a dull ache or pain in the back or side. Less often, signs of a kidney tumor include high blood pressure or an abnormal number of red blood cells.

Diagnostic tests can include blood and urine tests, an IVP (intravenous pyelogram), a CT (or CAT) scan, an ultrasound, an arteriogram, MRI, or a nephrotomogram (a series of x-rays of cross sections of the kidney).

Treatments will depend on the size of the tumor and the general health of the patient. Treatment can include surgery, embolization, radiation, hormone therapy, biological therapy, or chemotherapy or a combination of these.

Most kidney cancer patients have surgery to remove the kidney.

In embolization, a substance is injected to clog the renal blood vessels. This stops the blood supply to the tumor which causes it to shrink. Surgery sometimes follows embolization. Read through our list of resources.

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Prostate Cancer

The prostate gland is part of the male reproductive system. It's small, about the size and shape of a walnut. It's located in front of the rectum, below the bladder, and is wrapped around the urethra. The prostate is made up of muscle and glandular tissues. It's main function is to produce the fluid which carries sperm cells.

Prostate cancer is the most common cancer in men; it is estimated that 1 out of every 9 men will develop prostate cancer in their lifetime. The risk grows higher with age.

Very early prostate cancer usually has no symptoms which is why it is so important for all men to have regular check-ups with their personal care physician or urologist. Early detection can make a substantial difference in the treatment options and cure rate of prostate cancer. Some symptoms of prostate cancer which may develop include weak or interrupted flow of urine; difficulty in urinating; inability to urinate; frequent need to urinate; blood in urine or semen, continuing pain in the lower back.

Diagnostic procedures will usually include a digital rectal exam (DRE) and a prostate specific antigen blood test (PSA). If either or both of these tests suggest to your medical team that prostate cancer may be present additional tests may be ordered including biopsies.

Treatment options include surgery, radiation, chemotherapy, hormone therapy or a combination of these. Take a look at our list of resources for additional reading materials.

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Testicular Cancer

The testicles (also called testes or gonads) are the male sex glands. They are located behind the penis in a pouch of skin called the scrotum. The testicles produce and store sperm, and they are also the body's main source of male hormones. These hormones control the development of the reproductive organs and other male characteristics, such as body and facial hair, low voice, and wide shoulders.

Testicular cancer is one of the most common cancers in young men between the ages of 15 and 34. The disease also occurs in other age groups so all men should be aware of its symptoms.

Symptoms can include:

  • A lump in either testicle
  • Any enlargement of a testicle
  • A feeling of heaviness in the scrotum
  • A dull ache in the lower abdomen or the groin
  • A sudden collection of fluid in the scrotum
  • Pain or discomfort in a testicle or in the scrotum
  • Enlargement or tenderness of the breasts

Diagnosing testicular cancer will include a complete physical examination along with a chest x-ray and blood and urine tests. If the exam and lab results don't show an infection or other disorder the doctor is likely going to suspect cancer.

The only definitive diagnosis is to examine a sample of tissue under a microscope. The tissue to be examined may be obtained by removing the affected testicle through the groin.

If a man has testicular cancer it is important to find out whether it has spread from the testicle to other parts of the body. This is discovered through a variety of tests which may include CT (or CAT) scans, intravenous pyelography (IVP), or lymphangiography (x-rays taken with a special dye. Ultrasonography may also be used.

Decisions about treatment for testicular cancer are complex. Sometimes it's helpful to have more than one doctor's advice. The patient may want to ask to see a doctor who specializes in testicular cancer.

Treatments can include surgery, radiation, and chemotherapy or a combination of these. Look through our reading materials for additional resources.

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Wilms' Tumor

Almost without exception, cases of kidney cancer in children are Wilms' tumor. It is thought that this type of cancer starts in immature cells that normally would become mature renal (kidney) cells.

There is no unique symptom for Wilms' tumor. The most common sign is a lump in the belly, or a swollen abdomen. Blood in the urine occurs in about 25% of patients but in most cases the blood is in such small amounts that's it's not visible with the naked eye

If you are aware of anyone in your family or your partner's family who has had Wilms' tumor you should alert your child's pediatrician.

Diagnosis begins with a physical examination and medical history of the families. X-rays are always used to confirm a suspected diagnosis. An ultrasound may also be ordered.

If these tests are inconclusive, another kind of x-ray called selective renal arteriography can tell the doctor whether Wilms' tumor exists.

Wilms' tumor is one of some 20 cancers for which treatments have been developed combining surgery, radiation, and chemotherapy. The way in which the three treatment methods will be used depends on the patient's medical history, age, general health, and the stage of the disease. We have identified a couple of good resources for additional information.

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Please see our resources on Urologic Cancers.

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material for this page excerpted from NIH documents with permission


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