Urethral cancer is a rare cancer. There are no clear causes, but there may be a link between urethral cancer and conditions that cause long-term inflammation in your urethra. A provider can diagnose urethral cancer with physical exams and tests. Treatment includes surgery, radiation therapy and/or chemotherapy.
If you’re a man or assigned male at birth (AMAB), your urethra is about 8 inches (in.) long and passes through your prostate and penis to the outside of your body. It also carries semen and sperm (ejaculate) out of your body.
If you’re a woman or assigned female at birth (AFAB), your urethra is about 2 inches long. It’s just above your vagina, within your labia.
There are different types of urethral cancer that begin in cells that line your urethra. They all fall under the umbrella term of “urethral cancer:”
In some instances, urethral cancer can be fatal. It may grow and spread to other areas of your body, which is challenging to treat and more likely to be life-threatening.
Urethral cancer is rare, which makes it difficult to establish survival rates. Recent studies show that the average survival rate for urethral cancer is about four years. The likelihood of surviving five years after diagnosis is 46%, and the likelihood of surviving 10 years after diagnosis is 31%.
The following may affect your chances of recovering from urethral cancer:
Cleveland Clinic is a non-profit academic medical center. Advertising on our site helps support our mission. We do not endorse non-Cleveland Clinic products or services. Policy
Anyone can get urethral cancer. However, you may be more likely to get urethral cancer if you:
Urethral cancer is rare. In the United States, there were only 1,615 cases of urethral cancer between 1973 and 2002. Less than 1% of all cancer diagnoses are urethral cancer.
You’re more likely to get urethral cancer if you’re 60 or older.
Many people don’t notice any signs of urethral cancer in its earliest stages. If you have symptoms, they usually include:
Healthcare providers and medical researchers aren’t sure what causes urethral cancer. However, there may be a link to long-term (chronic) swelling and infections. The following conditions may add to your risk of developing urethral cancer:
Typically, urethral cancer first spreads to the tissues around your urethra. It may spread to lymph nodes in your groin area. As a result, you may occasionally see swelling in your leg.
A healthcare provider will conduct a complete physical examination if you have urethral cancer symptoms. They’ll also ask if you have a personal or family history of bladder or urethral cancer.
They may also order or conduct other tests to help diagnose urethral cancer. These tests may include the following:
Treatment depends on the following:
Urethral cancer treatments include:
Your provider may recommend a combination of cancer treatments as part of your treatment. Talk to them about what type of treatments are best for you.
Talk to your healthcare provider about the best way to take care of your side effects. They may recommend:
Be sure to talk to a provider before you make any changes to your diet or lifestyle.
Urethral cancer treatments vary, and your body is unique. Your response to urethral cancer treatments may differ from others. Your team of healthcare providers can explain what you should expect as you recover.
Because urethral cancer is rare, healthcare providers and medical researchers are still learning the best ways to prevent it. You may be able to help prevent it by:
Hearing that you have urethral cancer can make you feel sad, angry, frustrated and scared. These feelings are normal and may quickly shift as you process your diagnosis and go through treatment. Your healthcare provider may refer you to support groups for people with urethral cancer, which can help you feel less lonely. They can also guide you through what to expect as you explore urethral cancer treatment options.
Yes and no. A cure means that you no longer have urethral cancer, you don’t need any more treatment and healthcare providers don’t think it’ll come back. However, it takes providers a long time to be sure that urethral cancer won’t return. You’ll need follow-up care with regular check-ups and testing to ensure it hasn’t come back.
After successful treatment, providers must perform tests (including CT or MRI imaging and cystoscopy) to show that you don’t have any signs of urethral cancer. The longer you’re cancer-free, the greater your chances that urethral cancer won’t come back.
See a healthcare provider if you have any signs of urethral cancer, including any changes to your peeing habits, discharge from your urethra, blood in your pee or lumps in your penis or perineum.
As you’re undergoing urethral cancer treatment, talk to your healthcare provider if you have the following:
A note from Cleveland Clinic
Urethral cancer is a rare cancer that affects your urethra. You may feel a wide range of emotions as you come to terms with your diagnosis and how urethral cancer may affect your life. Be honest with your healthcare provider about your feelings. They can answer your questions and work with you to create the best treatment plan.
Last reviewed by a Cleveland Clinic medical professional on 12/07/2022.
Learn more about our editorial process.