Cancer of the urethra

Urethra Cancer shown on a urinary system body diagram

Facts and figures about urethra cancer

Cancer of the urethra is very rare. Higher incidence in women than men. Age related, usually in those over 60 years of age.

Risk factors include previous bladder cancer, history of STDs (sexually transmitted diseases), recurrent urinary tract infections. Most of the tumours are squamous cell carcinomas.

Urethra cancer symptoms

  • Weak or interrupted urinary flow.
  • Blood in the urine (haematuria).
  • Urinary frequency.
  • Lump or thickness in the perineum or penis.
  • Discharge from the urethra.

Diagnosis of urethra cancer

Investigations may include:

  • Urine tests (likely to be carried out initially to investigate for possible urinary tract infection or blood in the urine if not apparent).
  • Physical examination (including pelvic and rectal examination).
  • Cystoscopy.
  • Uteroscopy.
  • Chest X-ray.
  • CT scan.
  • MRI scan.

Urethra cancer treatment

Depends on several factors:

  • The size and position of tumour.
  • The stage of the cancer.
  • General health.

Surgery

Surgery is the most common treatment. In very early stage tumours, laser surgery may be an option.

Regular surgery is likely to be removal of the bladder and urethra (cystourethrectomy) or removal of the bladder and prostate (cystoprostatectomy).

More extensive surgery may be required depending on the stage of the disease. If the urethra is removed, a stoma (urostomy) will need to be performed to enable the urine to be collected.

Radiotherapy

Radiotherapy may be given in some case to treat urethral cancer, which has the benefit of avoiding major surgery. It is also given post-operatively (adjuvant) sometimes to reduce the risk of recurrence.

Chemotherapy

Chemotherapy has been used for disease that has spread to other parts of the body or in combination with radiotherapy and/or surgery for locally advanced urethral cancer.

The chemotherapy drugs used may include cisplatin, fluorouracil (5FU), mitomycin C, bleomycin, gemcitabine and irinotecan.

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