Primary Urethral Cancer

Uretral Cancer

What is primary urethral cancer?

You have been diagnosed with primary urethral cancer. This means you have a cancerous growth (malignant tumour) in your urethra. The urethra carries urine out of the body from the bladder, also known as urinary bladder. In men, the urethra runs through the prostate and the penis (Fig. 1.1a). In women, it leads to the genital area in front of the vagina (Fig. 1.1b).

urethral cancer
Fig. 1.1: the genital tract in (a) men and (b) women.

Primary urethral cancer is rare and is found more frequently in men and in patients older than age 75 years. It is not contagious.

A tumour that grows towards the centre of the urethra without growing into deeper layers or adjacent organs is superficial and represents an early stage of cancer. Urethral cancer becomes advanced as it grows into deeper layers of tissue; into the penis, the vagina, or adjacent organs; or into the surrounding muscles. This type of cancer has a higher chance of spreading to other parts of the body (metastatic disease) and is harder to treat. In some cases, it may be fatal.

If urethral cancer spreads to other parts of the body such as the lymph nodes or other organs, it is called metastatic urethral cancer. At this stage, cure is unlikely, and treatment is limited to controlling the spread of the disease and reducing symptoms.

Risk factors

Several biological factors and harmful substances can increase the risk of developing cancer. A higher risk does not necessarily mean that you will get cancer. Sometimes urethral cancer develops without any known cause.

Men may have a higher risk of primary urethral cancer if they have had radiation therapy, chronic inflammation, or a sexual transmitted disease. Using a catheter several times a day to urinate (intermittent catheter) also increases risk for men.

Women who have chronic infection or recurrent urinary tract infection may have an increased risk of primary urethral cancer. Development of a pouch (diverticulum) in the urethra also increases risk for women (Fig. 1.2).

urethral cancer diverticulum
Fig. 1.2: bladder and urethra plus diverticulum.

Risk factors for urethral cancer:

  • Age of 75 years or older—primary urethral cancer develops slowly and is more common in older people
  • Urethral strictures or chronic irritation after intermittent catheter use or surgery in the urethra
  • Radiation therapy (external or seed implantation) for other causes
  • Chronic urethral inflammation or inflammation following a sexually transmitted disease
  • Urethral diverticula and recurrent urinary tract infections.


This information was produced by the European Association of Urology (EAU) Patient Information Working Group.
– Prof. Dr. Med. T. Bach, Hamburg (DE)




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