Urethral cancer, which affects the urethra, the thin tube through which urine is excreted from the bladder, is an extremely rare variety of cancer. It accounts for only about 2 percent of all urological cancers and is more common in men. There are three types of urethral cancer: squamous cell carcinoma, transitional cell carcinoma, and adenocarcinoma. Although rare, urethral cancer can be dangerous since it can metastasize rapidly and has frequently reached the lymph nodes by the time it is diagnosed.
Risk Factors for Urethral Cancer
The precise cause of urethral cancer is not known, but certain individuals are at higher risk for developing this disease. Risk factors for urethral cancer include having a history of:
- Urethral stricture
- Bladder cancer
- Frequent urinary tract infections (UTIs)
- Sexually transmitted diseases
Having any sexually transmitted disease is a risk factor for urethral cancer, but a particular link has been found between urethral cancer and the human papilloma virus (HPV) in both men and women.
Symptoms of Urethral Cancer
Early detection of urethral cancer is complicated by the fact that patients often have no symptoms until the disease progresses. Once symptoms develop they include:
- Difficulty urinating
- Painful urination
- Frequent urination at night
- Blood in the urine
- Painless lump or swelling in the groin
- Urethral discharge
The difficulty urinating that patients with urethral cancer experience may manifest as trouble starting the flow of urine or a weak or interrupted stream.
Diagnosis of Urethral Cancer
The diagnosis of urethral cancer necessitates a physical examination and a review of medical history. Several diagnostic tests may also be required, including some of the following:
- Pelvic examination
- Digital rectal examination
- Blood tests
- Ureteroscopy or cystoscopy
- CT scan
In the event that a tumor is discovered, a biopsy is performed and a chest X-ray is taken to determine whether there has been metastasis to the lungs.
Treatment of Urethral Cancer
Once a urethral cancer is diagnosed, there are several treatment options. A treatment plan is created for each individual patient and may include one of the following or a combination of treatments:
- Radiation therapy
Because urethral cancer may recur, even after aggressive treatment, patients with this disease require long-term monitoring and medical management.