Urethral Cancer: The Basics

Author: OncoLink Team
Last Reviewed: October 11, 2018

The urethra is the tube in your body that is connected to your bladder. Its job is to remove urine from the bladder 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 which 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.

Risks

The risk factors can include:

  • History of bladder cancer
  • Health issues that cause chronic inflammation of the urethra like sexually transmitted diseases and urinary tract infections.

Screening

Currently there are no screening tests for urethral cancer. 

Signs of Urethral Cancer

Signs of urethral cancer are: 

  • Issues with normal bathroom habits. Examples are having trouble urinating including starting, weak flow, frequency, stopping midstream, and inability to hold your urine. 
  • Discharge or bleeding from the urethra or having blood in the urine.
  • A lump or swelling in the groin, perineum or penis.

Diagnosis 

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 such as: urine studies, blood tests 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 distal or proximal. Distal is when the cancer has not spread deeply into the tissue. Proximal cancer has spread deeply into the tissue. In some cases, further staging is used.

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. 
  • Active Surveillance: in some cases, your provider will decide that treatment is not needed right way but will watch to see how the cancer grows.

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

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