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Urethral Cancer: Stages 

What does stage of cancer mean?

The stage of a cancer is how much and how far the cancer has spread in your body. Your healthcare provider uses exams and tests to find out the size of the cancer and where it is. He or she can also see if the cancer has grown into nearby areas and whether it has spread to other parts of your body. The stage of a cancer is one of the most important things to know when deciding how to treat the cancer.

How is urethral cancer staged?

Urethral cancer is staged and treated based on the part of the urethra that’s affected. It also depends how deeply the tumor has spread into tissue around the urethra. Urethral cancer can be described by its location and the type of tissues that are affected.

  • In anterior or distal urethral cancer, the tumors usually do not involve deeper tissue. They affect the urethral section closest to the outside of the body.

  • In posterior or proximal urethral cancer, the tumors often have spread deeply into the surrounding tissue. They affect the urethral section closest to the bladder. The entire urethra may be affected in women. In men, the prostate gland and the part of the urethra that goes through it may be affected.

 Urethral cancer staging and treatment may also be described by the type of cancer cells found: 

  • Transitional cell carcinoma: The cancer started in the cells near the opening of the urethra in women. In men, the cancer started in the cells in the part of the urethra that goes through the penis.

  • Squamous cell carcinoma: The cancer started in the cells that line the part of the urethra near the bladder in women. In men, it started in the cells in the part of the urethra that goes through the prostate gland.

  • Adenocarcinoma: The cancer starts in the cells that form glands around the urethra.

What are the stages of urethral cancer?

The following stages are also used to describe urethral cancer:

Stage 0 (carcinoma in situ):

  • Abnormal cells are in the inner lining of the urethra. These cells have not become cancer. In time, these cells may turn into cancer and spread further into urethral tissue.

Stage I:

  • Abnormal cells have become cancer cells. They have spread into the layer of tissue next to the urethral lining.

Stage II:

  • Cancer cells have spread into the muscle tissue surrounding the urethra. In men, the tissue in the penis or prostate gland surrounding the urethra may also be involved.

Stage III:

  • The cancer has moved to tissues beyond the urethra.The vagina, lips of the vagina (vulva), or nearby muscle tissue may be involved in women. In men, cancer has spread to the penis or nearby muscle tissue. 

  • One nearby lymph node may have cancer cells in it, but it's not bigger than 2 cm (about 3/4 inch) across.


  • The tumor can be any size. It has spread into nearby organs. These can include the bladder, prostate gland, or vagina.

  • Or the cancer has spread to the lymph nodes.

  • It may also have spread to other distant organs in the body. These can include the liver, lungs, and bone.

Talking with your healthcare provider

Once your cancer is staged, your healthcare provider will talk with you about what the stage means for your treatment. Make sure to ask any questions or talk about your concerns.

Online Medical Reviewer: Goodman, Howard, MD
Online Medical Reviewer: Stump-Sutliff, Kim, RN, MSN, AOCNS
Date Last Reviewed: 6/1/2016
© 2013 The StayWell Company, LLC. 800 Township Line Road, Yardley, PA 19067. All rights reserved. This information is not intended as a substitute for professional medical care. Always follow your healthcare provider's instructions.
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