Among urological cancers, urethral cancer, which is the rarest type, is more frequently encountered in men compared to women. Advanced age (over 60) and a history of bladder cancer increase the risk of urethral cancer. Additionally, certain diseases transmitted through sexual contact, such as frequent urinary tract infections and Human Papillomavirus (HPV), can elevate the risk of chronic inflammation in the urethra, potentially leading to cancer. Urethral cancer can progress without displaying any symptoms, but it can also manifest with symptoms such as blood in the urine, frequent, weak, or interrupted urination, discharge from the urethra, or the development of lymph nodes around the urethra. Early diagnosis and treatment of urethral cancer are crucial, as it can pose a life-threatening risk if left untreated. Uniqacare Urology Department provides information on the causes, symptoms, treatment methods, and frequently asked questions about urethral cancer.
What is urethra?
The urethra is a hollow tube that carries the urine stored in the bladder out of the body. In men, the urethra is about 8 inches long and extends from the bladder through the prostate to the tip of the penis. In women, the urethra is about 1.5 inches long and is located just above the vagina.
What is urethral cancer?
Urethral cancer is a type of cancer that develops in the urethra, a narrow tube that carries urine from the bladder to the outside of the body. Urethral cancer originates from malignant cells that affect the tissues lining the urethra. It is one of the rarest types of urological cancers. The risk of developing urethral cancer is higher in individuals over the age of 60 and those with a history of bladder cancer. Additionally, certain sexually transmitted diseases such as frequent urinary tract infections and human papillomavirus (HPV) can increase the risk of urethral cancer by causing chronic inflammation in the urethra. Urethral cancer can progress silently without initially showing any symptoms, but in advanced stages, it can manifest with symptoms such as blood in the urine, frequent urination, weak or interrupted urine flow, discharge from the urethra, or the development of lymph nodes around the urethra.
What are the causes of urethral cancer?
The exact causes of urethral cancer, like many other types of cancer, are not yet fully understood. Urethral cancer is known to occur when healthy cells begin to grow uncontrollably and form tumors by clustering together. However, the specific reasons why these cells rapidly grow and lead to urethral cancer are not definitively known.
Research conducted on urethral cancer patients for a long time suggests that the following factors may increase the risk of cancer:
Individuals over the age of 60 are at a higher risk of developing urethral cancer compared to younger individuals.
People with a history of bladder cancer have an increased risk of urethral cancer. Additionally, even if the bladder is removed in individuals undergoing bladder cancer treatment, urethral cancer can still develop later.
Sexually transmitted diseases like HPV (human papillomavirus) can raise the risk of urethral cancer.
Those who have experienced frequent urinary tract infections are at a higher risk of developing urethral cancer.
Chronic inflammations in the urethra can potentially lead to urethral cancer.
Narrowing of the urethra can increase the risk of urethral cancer in men as it can lead to chronic swelling and inflammation.
The presence of a mass or lump in the urethra can increase the risk of urethral cancer, particularly in women.
Urethral cancer risk is approximately twice as high in Black individuals compared to the White population.
What are the symptoms of urethral cancer?
Urethral cancer is initially a disease that progresses without showing symptoms. This is because cancer tumors are small in the beginning.
As urethral cancer advances and tumors grow larger, it can cause the following symptoms in patients:
Blood in the urine.
Discharge or bleeding from the urethra.
Frequent urination and a constant urge to urinate without being able to empty the bladder completely.
Pain or a weak stream during urination.
Enlarged lymph nodes in the groin area.
A lump or growth in the area between the genitals and the anus.
Most of these symptoms can also be caused by other medical conditions. However, it is crucial not to ignore these symptoms and to consult a urology specialist with expertise in this area to determine whether cancer is present. This is because urethral cancer can pose significant health risks if not diagnosed and treated early.
How is urethral cancer diagnosed?
Urethral cancer symptoms often resemble those of other diseases, leading patients to receive treatment for different conditions. These treatments may include urinary tract infections or benign prostatic hyperplasia in men. Patients who do not respond to these treatments should undergo a detailed examination. After gathering information about the patient's reasons for seeking medical attention, risk factors, and family history of the disease, a physical examination of the patient is conducted.
For men, this may include a digital rectal examination, while women may undergo a pelvic examination to gather information about any tumors around the urethra. Additionally, for a definitive diagnosis, your doctor may request the following tests and procedures:
Endoscopic examination (cystoscopy or ureteroscopy).
As with many cancer types, biopsy is the most crucial test for confirming urethral cancer. Once a definitive diagnosis of urethral cancer is made, additional tests may be conducted to gather more information about the cancer. These tests help determine the stage of the cancer and how far it has spread (metastasized). After thorough staging of urethral cancer, the doctor collaborates with the patient to initiate the treatment process as soon as possible.
How is urethral cancer treated?
The treatment options for urethral cancer depend on the type of urethral cancer you have, its location within the urethra, your gender, test results, and the stage of cancer. The primary treatment methods for urethral cancer include:
Surgical Treatment: Surgery is the most common treatment for urethral cancer. The cancerous tumor is removed from either inside or outside the urethra through surgery. Additionally, surgical methods are used to remove affected lymph nodes around the urethra.
Radiation Therapy: Radiation therapy uses high-energy rays to destroy cancer cells. In urethral cancer, radiation is often used in conjunction with surgery or chemotherapy.
Chemotherapy: Chemotherapy involves the use of drugs to prevent tumor growth, shrink the tumor before surgery, and prevent the disease from recurring after surgery.
Observation: In some cases of urethral cancer, the patient is simply observed without immediate treatment. This means that if the tumor is not causing any problems, not growing, or not showing signs of spreading, the patient is regularly monitored through examinations and tests by a doctor. If the tumor starts to grow or shows signs of spreading, other treatment options are considered.
Post-Treatment Follow-Up: Complete removal of the urethral cancer may be achieved with treatment, but it does not eliminate the possibility of cancer recurrence. Therefore, it is crucial for the patient to be regularly monitored by their doctor to detect the risk of recurrence early and prevent potential metastasis.
The choice of treatment and its specific approach will be determined by your healthcare team after considering all relevant factors and tailoring the treatment plan to your individual situation.
FREQUENTLY ASKED QUESTIONS ABOUT URETHRAL CANCER
What are the side effects of urethral cancer treatment?
During the treatment of urethral cancer, patients may experience side effects such as hair loss due to chemotherapy and other drug therapies, sores in various parts of the body, including the mouth, vomiting, loss of appetite, and tension.
Is urethral cancer a fatal disease?
Urethral cancer is a cunning disease that can progress without showing any symptoms at first. When urethral cancer is detected early, it can be treated with procedures like surgery, as well as chemotherapy and radiation therapy.
Does urethral cancer recur?
The likelihood of urethral cancer recurring after treatment depends on the initial size and location of the cancerous tumor. Smaller tumors in the early stages, especially in the proximal urethra, have a lower risk of recurrence.
Is urethral cancer more common in men or women?
The urethra is about 8 inches long in men and approximately 1.5 inches in women. Urethral cancer is more commonly seen in men than in women.
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