Urology is the medical and surgical specialty that focuses on the urinary tracts of males and females, and on the reproductive system of males. Medical professionals specializing in the field of urology are called urologists and are trained to diagnose, treat, and manage patients with urological disorders. The organs covered by urology include the kidneys, adrenal glands, ureters, urinary bladder, urethra, and the male reproductive organs (testes, epididymis, vas deferens, seminal vesicles, prostate and penis). Urology is one of the most competitive specialties to enter for physicians.
Urology is closely related to, and in some cases overlaps with, the medical fields of oncology, nephrology, gynecology, andrology, pediatric surgery, gastroenterology, and endocrinology.
As a discipline that involves the study of many organs and physiological systems, urology can be broken down into subfields. At larger centers and especially university hospitals, many urologists sub-specialize within a particular field of urology.
Endourology is the branch of urology that deals with minimally invasive surgical procedures. As opposed to open surgery, endourology is performed using small cameras and instruments inserted into the urinary tract. Traditionally, transurethral surgery has been the cornerstone of endourology. Via the urethra, the complete urinary tract can be reached, enabling prostate surgery, surgery of tumors of the urothelium, stone surgery, and simple urethral and ureteral procedures.
Laparoscopy is a rapidly evolving branch of Urology and has replaced some open surgical procedures. Robotic assisted surgery of the prostate, kidney, and ureter has been expanding this field. Today, the majority of prostatectomies in the U.S. are carried out by robotic surgery. This has created controversy, however, as the machines are very expensive, require a dedicated surgical team, have high maintenance costs, and to date the only proven benefit of a robotic prostatectomy to an open one is less blood loss.
Urologic oncology concerns the surgical treatment of malignant genitourinary diseases such as cancer of the prostate, adrenal glands, bladder, kidneys, ureters, testicles and penis. The medical treatment of advanced genitourinary cancer is managed by either a urologist or an oncologist depending on the cancer.
Neurourology concerns nervous system control of the genitourinary system, and of conditions causing abnormal urination. Neurological diseases and disorders such as multiple sclerosis, Parkinson’s disease, and spinal cord injury can disrupt the lower urinary tract and result in conditions such as urinary incontinence, detrusor over activity, urinary retention, and detrusor sphincter dyssynergia. Urodynamic studies play an important diagnostic role in neurourology. Therapy for nervous system disorders includes clean intermittent self-catheterization of the bladder, anticholinergic drugs, injection of Botulinum toxin into the bladder wall and advanced and less commonly used therapies such as sacral neuromodulation. Less marked neurological abnormalities can cause urological disorders as well—for example, abnormalities of the sensory nervous system are thought by many researchers to play a role in disorders of painful or frequent urination (e.g. painful bladder syndrome, formerly known as interstitial cystitis).
Pediatric urology concerns urologic disorders in children. Such disorders include cryptorchism (undescended testes), congenital abnormalities of the genito-urinary tract, enuresis, underdeveloped genitalia (due to delayed growth or delayed puberty, often an endocrinological problem), and vesicoureteral reflux.
Andrology focuses on the male reproductive system. It is mainly concerned with male infertility, erectile dysfunction and ejaculatory disorders. Since male sexuality is largely controlled by hormones, andrology overlaps with endocrinology. Surgery in this field includes fertilization procedures, vasectomy reversals, and the implantation of penile prostheses. Vasectomies may also be included here although most urologists perform this procedure.
Reconstructive urology reestablishes functionality of the genito-urinary tract. Structures of the urethra or the ureter often require reconstructive surgery. Another frequent procedure is the reconstruction of the urinary bladder from small bowel in conjunction with cancer surgery. Cosmetic surgery such as penis enlargement is rarely done in urology.
Female urology is a branch dealing with overactive bladder, pelvic organ prolapse, and urinary incontinence. Thorough knowledge of the female pelvic floor together with urodynamic skills are necessary to diagnose and treat these disorders. Depending on the cause of the individual problem a medical or surgical treatment can be the solution.