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Urethral Cancer Treatment (PDQ®): Treatment - Patient Information [NCI] - General Information About Urethral Cancer

Urethral cancer is a disease in which malignant (cancer) cells form in the tissues of the urethra.

The urethra is the tube that carries urine from the bladder to outside the body. In women, the urethra is about 1½ inches long and is just above the vagina. In men, the urethra is about 8 inches long, and goes through the prostate gland and the penis to the outside of the body. In men, the urethra also carries semen.


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Anatomy of the male urinary system (left) and female urinary system (right) showing the kidneys, ureters, bladder, and urethra. Urine is made in the renal tubules and collects in the renal pelvis of each kidney. The urine flows from the kidneys through the ureters to the bladder. The urine is stored in the bladder until it leaves the body through the urethra.

Urethral cancer is a rare cancer that occurs more often in men than in women.

There are different types of urethral cancer that begin in cells that line the urethra.

These cancers are named for the types of cells that become malignant (cancer):

  • Squamous cell carcinoma is the most common type of urethral cancer. It forms in cells in the part of the urethra near the bladder in women, and in the lining of the urethra in the penis in men.
  • Transitional cell carcinoma forms in the area near the urethral opening in women, and in the part of the urethra that goes through the prostate gland in men.
  • Adenocarcinoma forms in the glands that are around the urethra in both men and women.

Urethral cancer can metastasize (spread) quickly to tissues around the urethra and is often found in nearby lymph nodes by the time it is diagnosed.

A history of bladder cancer can affect the risk of urethral cancer.

Anything that increases your chance of getting a disease is called a risk factor. Having a risk factor does not mean that you will get cancer; not having risk factors doesn't mean that you will not get cancer. Talk with your doctor if you think you may be at risk. Risk factors for urethral cancer include the following:

  • Having a history of bladder cancer.
  • Having conditions that cause chronic inflammation in the urethra, including:
    • Sexually transmitted diseases (STDs), including human papillomavirus (HPV), especially HPV type 16.
    • Frequent urinary tract infections (UTIs).

Possible signs of urethral cancer include bleeding or trouble with urination.

These and other symptoms may be caused by urethral cancer. Other conditions may cause the same symptoms. Sometimes early cancer of the urethra does not cause any symptoms at all. Check with your doctor if you have any of the following problems:

  • Trouble starting the flow of urine.
  • Weak or interrupted ("stop-and-go") flow of urine.
  • Frequent urination, especially at night.
  • Incontinence.
  • Discharge from the urethra.
  • Bleeding from the urethra or blood in the urine.
  • A lump or thickness in the perineum or penis.
  • A painless lump or swelling in the groin.
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