Urethral Cancer: The Basics

Author: Marisa Healy, BSN, RN
Last Reviewed: August 24, 2022

The urethra is the tube in your body that is connected to your bladder. It removes urine from the bladder and out of the body. Urethral cancer is cancer of the urethra. It starts when cells start to grow out of control and form a tumor. There are different types of urethral cancer that are named for the type of cells that are cancerous. They are:

  • Squamous cell.
  • Transitional cell.
  • Adenocarcinoma.

Cancer that has spread from the urethra to some other part of the body is called metastatic cancer.


The risk factors may be:

  • History of bladder cancer.
  • Health problems that cause inflammation (longterm swelling) of the urethra, like sexually transmitted diseases and urinary tract infections.


There are no screening tests for urethral cancer.

Signs of Urethral Cancer

Signs of urethral cancer are:

  • Problems with urinating (peeing). You may have:
    • Trouble starting to urinate.
    • A weak flow.
    • A problem with going too often (frequency).
    • To stop midstream,
    • Problems trying to hold your urine in.
  • Discharge or bleeding from the urethra or having blood in the urine.
  • A lump or swelling in the groin, perineum (the area between the genitals and anus), or penis.


If your provider thinks you may have urethral cancer, they will do a physical exam and ask you questions about your health. There are many tests that can be used to help diagnose this cancer, like urine studies, blood tests, MRI, and CT scans.

These tests are important, but a biopsy is the only way to know for sure what type of urethral cancer you have. A biopsy:

  • Looks at a piece of the tissue for cancer cells.
  • Is used to find out the cancer type, how normal it is [grade], and if it has spread.

A pathology report sums up these results and is sent to your healthcare provider, typically 5-10 days after the biopsy. This report is an important part of planning your treatment. You can ask for a copy of your report for your records.

Staging Urethral Cancer

Urethral cancer is called either Male Penile Urethra/Female Urethra and Prostatic Urethra. Cancer of the male penile urethra affects the urethra inside the penis. This type is closer to the outside of the body. Cancer of the female urethra and of the prostatic urethra in men is closer to the inside organs of the body, like the pelvic bones, bladder, and the prostate and penis (in men). You can find more detailed information about the staging of urethral cancer in Urethral Cancer: Staging and Treatment.


Often, these treatments are used:

  • Surgery: removal of all or part of the cancer.
  • Radiation Therapy: the use of high energy x-rays to kill cancer cells.
  • Chemotherapy: the use of medications to kill cancer cells.

This article is an introduction to cancer of the urethra. You can learn more about your urethral cancer diagnosis and treatment by using the links below.

Surgical Procedures: Surgery and Staging for Urethral Cancer

Urethral Cancer: Staging and Treatment

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