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Urethral Cancer

By Viraj A. Master, MD, PhD, Professor of Urology, Emory University School of Medicine

Cancer of the urethra (the channel that carries urine from the bladder out of the body) is rare, occurring most commonly after age 50. It can occur in men and women, and it is the only cancer of the urinary tract that is more common in women. Certain types of human papillomavirus are implicated as the cause of cancer of the urethra in some people. Otherwise, the cause is unknown.

In women, the first symptom is usually blood in the urine. The amount of blood may be so small that it can be detected only under a microscope. On the other hand, the urine may be visibly red. In both men and women, the flow of urine may become obstructed, making urination difficult or the stream of urine slow and thin. Fragile, bleeding growths at the external opening of a woman’s urethra may be cancerous.

Doctors use an endoscope to examine the inside of the urethra (cystourethroscopy). A biopsy must be done to positively identify a cancer.

Radiation therapy, surgical removal of the urethra, but usually of the bladder as well, or a combination of radiation therapy and surgical removal has been used to treat cancer of the urethra. The prognosis of cancer of the urethra depends on the precise location and extent of the cancer.