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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. 1a). In women, it leads to the genital area in front of the vagina (Fig. 1b).

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.

Fig. 1a: The male lower urinary tract.
Fig. 1a: The male lower urinary tract.
Fig. 1b: The female lower urinary tract.
Fig. 1b: The female lower urinary tract.

This information was produced by the European Association of Urology (EAU) Patient Information Working Group, November 2016.

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