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Urethral Cancer

Doctor and nurse discussing treatment options for Urethral cancer

About Urethral Cancer

Urethral cancer can be found in the cells that line the urethra but can spread throughout the urinary or reproductive system and to other parts of the body. Urethral cancers are named for the types of cells that become malignant (cancerous):

  • Adenocarcinoma: Forms in the glands near the urethra.
  • Squamous cell carcinoma: The most common type of urethral cancer, it forms in cells in the part of the urethra near the bladder.
  • Transitional cell carcinoma: Forms in the area near the urethral opening.

Urethral cancer can spread quickly to tissues around the urethra and is often found in nearby lymph nodes by the time it is diagnosed. People with urethral cancer have more treatment choices and hope for survival than ever before as doctors continue to find new treatments options.

Risk Factors

Urethral cancer is a rare form of cancer that occurs more often in women. Common risk factors for developing urethral cancer include but are not limited to:

  • Being a woman
  • Being age 60 or older.
  • Being African American
  • Chronic irritation or inflammation of the urinary tract due to repeated urinary tract infections (UTIs) and/or sexually transmitted diseases (STDs).
  • Human papillomavirus (HPV) infection or history of other STDs. 
  • Other cancers of the urinary tract (such as bladder cancer).

If any of these risk factors apply to you, talk to your doctor to find out how to prevent the disease or schedule an exam.

Preventing Urethral Cancer

Urethral cancer is rare, so doctors are still determining how to prevent it. Reducing known risk factors such as repeated UTIs and STDs is the first step towards preventing urethral cancer, along with regular exercise, eating a balanced diet, drinking adequate fluids, practicing good hygiene and avoiding unprotected sex.


Urethral cancer can be a silent disease, with no symptoms during the early stages. If you experience any of the following symptoms, it could be a sign of urethral cancer or another medical problem and you should contact your doctor immediately.

  • Blood in the urine.
  • Discharge from the urethra.
  • Urinating often or feeling a frequent urge to urinate without passing much urine.
  • Lumps or growths on the urethra.
  • Pain, low flow or dribbling while urinating.
  • Enlarged lymph nodes in the groin area.

Diagnosing Urethral Cancer

Types and Staging

The stage of cancer indicates how much and how far the disease has spread. By using imaging exams and blood and urine tests, a doctor can determine what stage your urethral cancer is in. A cancer's stage is one of the most important factors in deciding what treatment will be most effective.

Urethral cancer is staged and treated based on the part of the urethra that is affected and how deeply the tumor has spread into tissue around the urethra. Urethral cancer can be anterior or posterior.

Learn more about the treatment of urethral cancer »