Urethral Cancer: Introduction

What is cancer? 

Cancer is when cells in the body change and grow out of control. To help you understand what happens when you have cancer, let's look at how your body works normally. Your body is made up of tiny building blocks called cells. Normal cells grow when your body needs them. They die when your body does not need them any longer.

Cancer is made up of abnormal cells that grow even though your body doesn't need them. In most cancers, the abnormal cells grow to form a lump or mass called a tumor. If cancer cells are in the body long enough, they can grow into (invade) nearby areas. They can even spread to other parts of the body (metastasis).

What is urethral cancer?

Urethral cancer is a very rare type of cancer. It starts in the tube that carries urine out of your body (urethra). 

There are 3 different cell types in the urethra. Cancer cells can grow from any of these. The types of cancer they grow include:

  • Squamous cell carcinoma. This starts in the cells that line the inside of the urethra. In people born with a vagina, it starts in the part of the urethra near the bladder. In people born with a penis, it can start at any area of the lining along the penis.

  • Adenocarcinoma. This starts in the glands near the urethra.

  • Transitional cell. (also called urothelial) carcinoma. This is also called urothelial carcinoma. In people born with a vagina, it starts in the cells of the urethra near the opening of the urethra closest to the outside of the body. In people born with a penis, it starts in the part of the urethra that goes through the prostate gland.

Understanding the urethra

The urethra is a tube that carries urine from the bladder to outside the body. In people born with a vagina, the urethra is about 1.5 inches (about 3.8 cm) long. It reaches from the bladder to an opening above the vagina. In people born with a penis, the urethra is about 8 inches (about 20 cm) long. From the bladder, it passes through the prostate gland and the penis to an opening on the tip of the penis (glans).

Talk with your healthcare provider

If you have questions about urethral cancer, talk with your healthcare provider. They can help you understand more about this cancer.

Online Medical Reviewer: Jessica Gotwals RN BSN MPH
Online Medical Reviewer: Sabrina Felson MD
Online Medical Reviewer: Susan K. Dempsey-Walls RN
Date Last Reviewed: 11/1/2023
© 2024 The StayWell Company, LLC. All rights reserved. This information is not intended as a substitute for professional medical care. Always follow your healthcare provider's instructions.