"I’m almost 50 and I’ve been told that my risk of developing genitourinary cancers increases as I get older. Honestly, I don’t even know what they are. Can you clue me in?"
You definitely aren't the only person unfamiliar with genitourinary (GU) cancers. The term isn't as common as some, but you've likely heard of most—if not all—of the types of cancer that fall under the category.
Genitourinary cancers only develop in the male reproductive system and adrenal glands that are a part of the GU tract – the equivalent cancers in women are called gynecologic cancers. The GU tract is comprised of several urinary, reproductive and adrenal system organs, including the bladder, kidneys, ureters (the tubes that carry urine from the kidneys to the bladder), urethra and the testicles and prostate.
Cancers included under the GU umbrella include:
- Prostate cancer typically affects men over 50 and involves the prostate gland, which is located underneath the bladder, and supports the reproductive process. It's the second most common cancer in men, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control.
- Bladder cancer is the fourth most common cancer in men, according to the American Cancer Society. It's more common in men than women and typically affects men over age 55, with the average age of diagnosis being 73 years old.
- Kidney cancer, also known as renal cancer, typically affects older men, 64 being average age of diagnosis. It's very rare for men under the age of 45, but is one of the top 10 most common cancers diagnosed each year, according to the American Cancer Society (ACS).
- Testicular cancer is rare – one in every 263 males will develop it during their lifetimes. The average age of diagnosis is 33 and it's very uncommon to develop it before puberty and after age 65.
- Penile cancer and adrenal cancer are the two least common GU cancers. Penile cancer affects one in every 100,000 men, according to the ACS, while the true number of adrenal cancers diagnosed each year is so low that they estimate there are only 200 cases a year.
- Certain nonmalignant tumors of the urinary tract and reproductive system, which are more common in genetic disorders such as Von Hippel Lindau disease (VHL) also require monitoring and careful follow-up. VHL is a rare disease that is characterized by the growth of cysts and tumors in various parts of the body. The tumors may or may not be cancerous and, in men, may form in their genital tract.
GU Cancer Signs & Symptoms
There isn’t one simple explanation for how men develop GU cancers. For some men it’s a matter of genetics – they have a family history of prostate cancer, for example. Environmental factors also play a role.
While you may not be able to stop the cancer from developing, you can help doctors find it in the early stages by maintaining regular physicals and checkups, especially as you age past 50. Another key is to recognize when something is off with your body, because many GU cancers show symptoms like painful urination or persistent abdominal pain.
- Prostate cancer – is often called the “silent killer” because it doesn’t always have symptoms. For those who do have symptoms, the most common is a frequent (and urgent) need to urinate, along with a weak or nonexistent flow. Decreased or painful ejaculation is also associated with prostate cancer.
- Bladder and kidney cancer – the main symptom of both bladder and kidney cancer is blood in the urine, also called hematuria. It’s tricky, though, because bloody urine is most often a sign of something less serious, like a urinary tract infection, kidney stones or some other benign disease. However, experiencing bloody urine along with other factors – like extreme pain on one side of the body or extreme pain – can be a sign of something more serious.
- Testicular cancer – can be the easiest of the GU cancers to detect because it’s often accompanied by a lump in the scrotum, or swelling and inflammation. Testicular cancers can also cause painful breast tissue growth, and a decrease in libido. Penile cancer creates physical changes to the penis, like a red rash on the skin, ulcers or bumps on the shaft, small growths and discharge under the foreskin. But, like with bladder and kidney cancer, these symptoms might be a sign of something else, like a sexually transmitted disease.
- Adrenal cancer – symptoms of adrenal cancer can manifest in one of two ways: hormonal changes or pain from a large tumor pushing into nearby organs. In men, if androgens (male hormones) are secreted by the adrenal tumor, symptoms like weight gain, excessive hair growth or penile enlargement happen. If the tumor secretes estrogen hormones, men may experience breast enlargement and discomfort, impotence and decreased sexual desire. If the tumor is pushing against other organs, then symptoms like pain near the adrenal glands is common. The sensation of a full stomach is another symptom.
It’s important that you seek medical advice as soon as you notice any of these symptoms or bodily changes. Your best defense is early intervention. For answers at any point, call the askSARAH help line—(816) 448-7737. This free service of HCA Midwest Health and the Sarah Cannon Cancer Institute lets you talk to an oncology-trained nurse 24 hours a day, 7 days a week.
HCA Midwest Health: Genitourinary Cancer Experts
The Genitourinary (GU) program at the Sarah Cannon Cancer Institute HCA Midwest Health is a leader in research and treatment of GU cancers. Our comprehensive genetic counseling program allows us to measure your – or your family's – future risk of developing one of the diseases. If you're diagnosed with GU cancer, the expert team at Sarah Cannon HCA Midwest Health can perform tumor profiling that gives doctors a better understanding of your tumor and guides your personalized treatment plan.
Genitourinary Oncologist Peter Van Veldhuizen, MD, leads the multidisciplinary approach to the latest in GU therapies, including:
- Novel targeted oral therapies
- Immunotherapy therapies which fight your cancer by enhancing your immune system
- Oral and IV Chemotherapy
- Access to multiple clinical trials investigating new therapeutic agents.
Team expertise also includes:
- da Vinci® minimally-invasive robotic-assisted surgery
- Radiation therapy – Image-guided (IGRT), Intensity-modulated (IMRT), Stereotactic Radiosurgery (SRS), Body Radiotherapy (SBRT), CyberKnife® Stereotactic Radiosurgery and low-dose rate brachytherapy
- Multiparametric MRI of prostate
- Multiple directed therapies targeting cancer metastases in organs, embolization and directed radiation to liver lesions as well as bone directed therapies which both ablate and strengthen areas in which the cancer has spread to the bone.
- Nutrition and physical fitness expertise.
Our team’s expertise – along with the emotional support, care and follow-up provided by the medical team at Sarah Cannon HCA Midwest Health – gives you the best tools in your fight against cancer. "Each person’s battle with cancer requires a unique and individualized approach to ensure the best possible outcome both in treating their cancer and in maximizing quality of life," says Dr. Van Veldhuizen.
Time is of the essence when it comes to fighting cancer of the genitourinary tract. For more information on available treatments – including genetic profiling – call (816) 751-3775.
You can learn more about the Sarah Cannon Cancer Institute HCA Midwest Health by calling a registered nurse at (816) 448-7737.
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