Surgical management for upper urinary tract transitional cell carcinoma (UUT-TCC): a systematic review


Ghulam Nabi, Department of Urology, Ninewells Hospital, Academic Surgical practice, Population Sciences Division, College of Medicine, Dentistry & Nursing, University of Dundee, Dundee DD1 9SY, UK. e-mail:


What's known on the subject? and What does the study add?

Upper urinary tract transitional cell carcinoma (UUT-TCC) is an aggressive disease. The mainstay in the treatment of UUT-TCC is surgical intervention, with oncological control the primary objective. UUT-TCCs have been conventionally treated with radical nephroureterectomy (NU). This procedure involves removal of the kidney, ureter and ipsilateral excision of a bladder cuff. Whilst open NU has traditionally been the approach used, laparoscopic NU (LNU) is now an increasingly popular and established approach for UUT-TCC. It is argued that LNU reduces postoperative morbidity without compromising oncological efficacy. With technological evolution, robotic NU has now been attempted in some centres as well. In addition, several techniques have been described to manage the bladder cuff with no agreement as to the most efficacious approach. In a further attempt to reduce morbidity and safeguard nephrons, there have been advocates of a number of nephron-sparing techniques, e.g. ureteroscopic management, percutaneous approaches, and distal ureterectomy. These approaches obviously raise concern on oncological efficacy with requirement for more stringent long-term surveillance protocols.

This study comprehensively reviews and summarises the evidence comparing various surgical techniques in the management of UUT-TCC. The review additionally evaluates and critically appraises the quality of evidence available, which currently informs practice.

  • • Surgical management of upper urinary tract transitional cell carcinoma (UUT-TCC) has significantly changed over the past two decades. Data for several new surgical techniques, including nephron-sparing surgery (NSS), is emerging.
  • • The study systematically reviewed the literature comparing (randomised and observational studies) surgical and oncological outcomes for various surgical techniques
  • • MEDLINE, EMBASE, Cochrane Library, CINAHL, British Nursing Index, AMED, LILACS, Web of Science, Scopus, Biosis, TRIP, Biomed Central, Dissertation Abstracts, ISI proceedings, and PubMed were searched to identify suitable studies. Data were extracted from each identified paper independently by two reviewers (B.R. and B.S.) and cross checked by a senior member of the team.
  • • The data analysis was performed using the Cochrane software Review manager version 5. Comparable data from each study was combined in a meta-analysis where possible. For dichotomous data, odds ratios with 95% confidence intervals (CIs) were estimated based on the fixed-effects model and according to an intention-to-treat analysis. If the data available were deemed not suitable for a meta-analysis it was described in a narrative fashion.
  • • One randomised control trial (RCT) and 19 observational studies comparing open nephroureterectomy (ONU) and laparoscopic NU (LNU) were identified. The RCT reported the LNU group to have statistically significantly less blood loss (104 vs 430 mL, P < 0.001) and mean time to discharge (2.30 vs 3.65 days, P < 0.001) than the ONU group. At a median follow-up of 44 months, the overall 5-year cancer-specific survival (CSS; 89.9 vs 79.8%) and 5-year metastasis-free survival rates (77.4 vs 72.5%) for the ONU were better than for LNU, respectively, although not statistically significant.
  • • A meta-analysis of the observational studies favoured LNU group for lower urinary recurrence (P < 0.001) and distant metastasis. The meta-analyses for local recurrence for the two groups were comparable.
  • • One retrospective study comparing ONU with a percutaneous approach for grade 2 disease reported no significant differences in CSS rates (53.8 vs 53.3 months).
  • • Three retrospective studies compared NSS and radical NU, and reported no significant differences in overall CSS and recurrence-free survival between the two approaches.
  • • Five retrospective studies compared various techniques of en bloc excision of the lower ureter. No technique was reported to be better (operative and oncological) than any other.
  • • This review concludes that there is a paucity of good quality evidence for the various surgical approaches for UUT-TCC. The techniques have been assessed and reported in many retrospective single-centre studies favouring LNU for better perioperative outcomes and comparable oncological safety. The reported observational studies data is further supported by one RCT.