Urethral Cancer

The urethra is the tube that carries urine from the bladder out of the body when we urinate. While urethral cancer is rare, there are excellent treatment options available and reconstructive procedures that can help maintain quality of life.

Risk Factors

  • Inflammation caused by sexually transmitted diseases (STDs) like human papillomavirus (HPV) or by urinary tract infections (UTIs)
  • Bladder cancer or other urinary tract cancers
  • Age - urethral cancer is more common in older populations.
  • Member of certain demographics; for example, African Americans are more prone to developing urethral cancer

Urethral Cancer Diagnosis

Based on risk factors for urethral cancer, your doctor may recommend a complete medical evaluation. This will include:

  • A review of your clinical and family history 
  • A physical exam where your doctor will look for signs that indicate urethral cancer is present or may have spread to other areas of the body

Additional diagnostic procedures may include:

  • Laboratory tests, including blood tests to check blood cell counts and to evaluate kidney and liver function.
  • Urine cytology examines urine for the presence of abnormal cells and other indicators.
  • A cystoscopy uses a thin tube with a light attached to examine the urethra and bladder. 
  • A biopsy takes a small tissue sample to examine for the presence of cancer cells.
  • Computed tomography (CT) scan uses X-rays to take multiple pictures of the body from many angles. These images are then combined by a computer to create a detailed image.
  • Magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) uses magnets and radio waves to create detailed internal images without the use of x-rays. 
  • Ultrasound uses sound waves that bounce off organs and other body parts to a detailed image of the body.


While we are still learning more about what causes urethral cancer, avoiding or reducing risk factors, such as repeated UTIs and STDs, may help. There are currently no standard screening methods for urethral cancer, so people with a history of risk factors, such as a history of urologic cancer or repeated UTIs, should talk with their doctor to develop a strategy.


The treatment for urethral cancer varies depending on the location and size of the tumor in the urethra and the stage of the disease. Urethral cancer treatments may be different based on the patient's sex. Speak with your doctor about which treatment options are best for you, and consider the risks and side effects, as well as how treatment may impact your day-to-day life. 

  • Surgery - The most common treatment for urethral cancer, surgery is used to remove the tumor while leaving as much of the urethra intact as possible.
  • Chemotherapy - Used when cancer has spread to other parts of the body or to reduce tumor size prior to surgery.
  • Radiation therapy - Radiation can be used to kill cancer cells to shrink a tumor prior to surgery or to treat any remaining cancer after surgery; it can also be used alone as an alternative if the patient isn't a candidate for surgery.