Urothelial carcinoma is the most common type of bladder cancer, also affecting other parts of the urinary system. It is an aggressive disease and its treatment remains challenging for clinicians. Currently, each year there are nearly 80,000 new cases of urothelial cancer and approximately 16,000 deaths from the disease, according to the American Cancer Society. Unfortunately, there are limited therapeutic options for those with advanced urothelial carcinoma especially after the disease spreads to other distant organs (metastasis). Even with platinum-based chemotherapy and the introduction of immunotherapy, median overall survival is poor, and a five-year survival is only 15%.
The idea of metastasectomy (surgical removal of metastatic tumors) has been proven to be an established option in the treatment of patients with other solid tumors, however, little is known regarding the benefit and safety of this type of surgery for urothelial carcinoma patients because previous studies were mostly from single institutions and limited by small sample size.
Drs. Bishoy Faltas, Scott Tagawa, Jim Hu, along with others at Weill Cornell Medicine and NewYork-Presbyterian Hospital, partnered with the Center for Health Policy and Outcomes and Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center to address this very question and their research has now been published in Urologic Oncology: Seminars and Original Investigations. Their goal was to examine the use and outcomes of surgery in older patients with urothelial carcinoma in a large population-based dataset. To do this, clinicians conducted a SEER-Medicare study. SEER is a database run by the National Institutes of Health (NIH) that collects large population-based data that provide detailed information about Medicare beneficiaries with cancer. The research was analyzed based on the billing codes the physician’s offices used when submitting insurance claims.
Using this data, clinicians found 70,648 urothelial carcinoma patients and from those, they identified 497 patients who had at least one surgery to remove a metastatic lesion during a median follow-up of 40 months. The median overall survival after the first surgery was 19 months. In this selected patient population, over a third of patients were alive at three years. The median length of stay after surgery was seven days with 10% of patients having at least one complication within 30 days of discharge.
“It would be very difficult to conduct a randomized clinical trial testing surgery versus no surgery in those with urothelial carcinoma, so reviewing a large dataset retroactively is the next best thing,” says Dr. Bishoy Faltas, Assistant Professor and medical oncologist at Weill Cornell Medicine’s Genitourinary Oncology Program. “Our study shows that in well-selected patients with urothelial carcinoma with a reasonable life expectancy, resection of metastatic lesions is safe and associated with long-term survival and potential cures,” says Dr. Faltas.
What are Other Benefits of Surgery?
Aside from the fact that surgery can prolong life for those with urothelial carcinoma, there are other benefits as well. One of the benefits is enabling the testing of tissue that is removed. Studying this tissue allows clinicians to continue performing precision medicine and treating the individual, not the disease. As described in a previous research study conducted by Dr. Bishoy Faltas titled, “Clonal Evolution of Chemotherapy-Resistant Urothelial Carcinoma” published in Nature Genetics, it has been proven that tumors change and undergo clonal evolution over time especially in metastases after chemotherapy.
“Understanding the evolution of urothelial carcinoma is a central biological question and one that we can only truly begin to understand by testing tissue samples from patients at various periods throughout their treatment,” says Dr. Faltas.
Another potential benefit of surgery is the cost implication. With drug prices continuing to rise, depending on insurance carriers, there is the potential that surgery may be less costly than some of the long-term medications associated with treatment for urothelial cancer. Cost implications of course vary for each patient; however, it is one of the factors along with many others that should be addressed and discussed with healthcare teams.
“There is a lot more work to be done to help treat patients with urothelial cancer, however with the dataset we’ve compiled through our latest study, we’re able to glean the potential benefits of metastasectomy in older adults with urothelial cancer, which could lead to prolonged life and potential cures.”