Invasive Tests for Urinary Tract Cancer May Have Minimal Diagnostic Value, Kaiser Permanente Study Cautions

PASADENA, Calif.--(BUSINESS WIRE)-- Hematuria or blood in the urine may trigger a battery of tests for urinary tract cancer that are invasive and can unnecessarily expose patients to radiation, yet the procedures contribute little to the diagnosis, according to a study by Kaiser Permanente Southern California’s Department of Research & Evaluation published in the May issue of the Journal of Urology.

Kaiser Permanente Southern California’s current practice guidelines are the same as the recommendations of the American Urological Association. Both advise that patients should be evaluated for urinary tract cancer if they have two urinalysis tests showing microscopic evidence of blood in the urine. The standard of care includes a workup with kidney imaging, usually a multi-phase CT scan which is similar to having three x-rays, and an office-based procedure where a fiber-optic camera is used to visualize the inside of the bladder. The Canadian Urological Association also makes the same recommendations for patients over the age of 40. Neither the American or Canadian recommendations have been tested in a large population-based study. The American Cancer Society estimates that in 2010, there were 131,260 newly diagnosed cases of urinary tract cancer and 28,550 deaths from urinary tract cancer.

“Using information in our electronic medical records, we found an extremely low incidence of urinary tract cancer in patients with microscopic evidence of blood in their urine, suggesting that this radiation exposure and expensive workups may not be necessary for many of these individuals,” said study lead author Howard Jung, MD, a urology fellow, and Department of Urology physician/researcher at the Kaiser Permanente Los Angeles Medical Center in California.

The purpose of this population-based study was to determine the proportion of patients with hematuria who were ultimately diagnosed with urinary tract cancer and to establish the risk of cancer by age, sex, and degree of hematuria. For the study, the electronic medical records of 309,402 health plan members with microscopic hematuria or blood in the urine on microscopic urinalysis during 2004 and 2005 were reviewed through 2008 to determine who was diagnosed with urinary tract cancer by 2008.

The incidence of urinary tract cancer over three years was 4.3 per 1,000 patients with hematuria. “We found that patients who were older, male, and with more red blood cells in a high-powered microscopic field were much more likely to develop urinary tract cancer,” said Dr. Jung. “Compared to the American Urological Association approach, an alternative approach of only evaluating patients over the age of 40 years with at least one urinalysis with 25 red blood cells in a high-powered microscopic field would have spared 25,917 evaluations with their use of radiation, as well as have detected 6 more cases of urinary tract cancer. Compared to the Canadian Urological Association approach, it could have spared 11,584 evaluations, while detecting 16 more cases of urinary tract cancer.

“This study provides important real-world information about the association of hematuria in microscopic urinalysis and urinary tract cancer,” said Dr. Jung. “Rigorous protocols are needed to re-evaluate the best policy recommendations, and target specific populations that are at risk of being diagnosed with urinary tract cancer.” Kaiser Permanente is planning to continue this research with a prospective study.

Kaiser Permanente Southern California is a health care system that provides coordinated, comprehensive health services for approximately 3.4 million residents of southern California.

Co-authors of the paper include Howard Jung, MD, and Joseph M Gleason, MD, of the Kaiser Permanente Los Angeles Medical Center, Department of Urology; Ronald K Loo, MD, and Hetal S Patel, MD, of the Kaiser Permanente Downey Medical Center, Department of Urology; and Jeff M. Slezak, MS, and Steven J. Jacobsen, MD, PhD; with the Kaiser Permanente Southern California Department of Research & Evaluation.

About the Kaiser Permanente Department of Research & Evaluation

The Department of Research & Evaluation (R & E) conducts high quality, innovative research into disease etiology, prevention, treatment and care delivery. Investigators conduct epidemiology, health sciences, and behavioral research as well as clinical trials. Areas of interest include diabetes and obesity, cancer, HIV/AIDS, cardiovascular disease, aging and cognition, pregnancy outcomes, women’s and children’s health, quality and safety, and pharmacoepidemiology. Located in Pasadena, Calif., the department focuses on translating research to practice quickly to benefit the health and lives of Kaiser Permanente Southern California members and the general population. Visit

About Kaiser Permanente

Kaiser Permanente is committed to helping shape the future of health care. We are recognized as one of America's leading health care providers and not-for-profit health plans. Founded in 1945, our mission is to provide high-quality, affordable health care services and to improve the health of our members and the communities we serve. We currently serve 8.6 million members in nine states and the District of Columbia. Care for members and patients is focused on their total health and guided by their personal physicians, specialists and team of caregivers. Our expert and caring medical teams are empowered and supported by industry-leading technology advances and tools for health promotion, disease prevention, state-of-the art care delivery and world-class chronic disease management. Kaiser Permanente is dedicated to care innovations, clinical research, health education and the support of community health. For more information, visit


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