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Urethral Cancer: Symptoms and diagnosis

By Noida India

Urethral cancer is a progressive disease or malignancy marked by the abnormal multiplication and spread of cancerous cells in the urethra which gradually replace all the healthy cells. The urethra is a1½ inch long tube that serves as a passage for passing urine out of the body. It lies above the vagina. Urethral cancer is a very rare form of cancer and has a prevalence of 1 or 2 in 100. Although the problem is not gender-specific, it is more common in men as compared to women. Best oncology specialists suggest that age also plays a major role as people above 60 years of age have been found to be more vulnerable.

Urethral cancer is broadly classified into 3 types:


  • Squamous cell carcinoma: It is the most common type of urethral cancer, that originates in the cells present around the bladder.

  • Transitional cell carcinoma: It develops in the area around the urethral opening.

  • Adenocarcinoma:It originates in the glands present around the urethra.


Symptoms that you need to look out for:

Just like the majority of malignancies, urethral cancer is usually silent during the initial stages, which means that the person will not experience any of the symptoms. However, the following symptoms may be experienced during the later stages:

  • Formation of lumps or cancerous growths in the urethra

  • Traces of blood in the urine

  • Urinary incontinence

  • Experiencing the frequent urge to urinate

  • Low flow and pressure of the urine

  • Experiencing pain while urinating

  • Enlargement of lymph nodes


Are there any risk factors?

There are certain risk factors that make you, more vulnerable to urethral cancer, however, it is pertinent to understand that these factors do not necessarily mean that you will get urethral cancer. The various risk factors associated with urethral cancer include:

  • Severe inflammation and irritation due to infection in the urinary tract or any underlying sexually transmitted disease.

  • Personal history of any other cancer of the urinary tract

  • History of HPV or Human Papillomavirus


How is the problem diagnosed?

If you fall in the higher risk category, regular evaluation and assessment is a must. These involve:

  • Clinical history and physical exam: Your doctor will go through your detailed medical history and ask questions about your general health. You will be asked about your symptoms. This is followed by a thorough physical examination wherein your doctors will look for any lumps near or around the urethra. This includes proper rectal and gynaecological exams to determine how far cancer has spread.

  • Laboratory tests: Your blood sample will be collected and evaluated to check for any abnormality. Your blood cell count will also be determined.

  • Urine cytology: You will be asked to collect a sample of your urine, which will be then examined to check any abnormality in composition or find the traces of blood or cancerous cells.

  • Cystoscopy: A thin, lighted tube is used to have a better and detailed view of the inside of the urethra and the urinary bladder. This helps to determine the exact location of the tumour, detect any lesions, determine the size of the tumour etc. This is usually performed during a biopsy to collect tissue samples for detailed evaluation.

  • Biopsy: Biopsy is usually carried out when your doctor suspects you might have cancer but is not sure about the diagnosis. A biopsy helps to diagnose and detect the problem with much more precision and accuracy. A small tissue sample is collected and examined under a microscope to trace the signs of any malignancy.

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