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Urethral Cancer: Treatment Choices  

Learning about your treatment options

The treatment options for each person depend on how big the tumor is and where it is in the urethra, as well as the stage (extent) of the disease. A healthcare provider also considers the person's age and general health when making treatment recommendations. Because this part of the body is different for men and women, the treatments for urethral cancer are also based on your sex.

It’s normal to want to learn all you can about your disease and treatment choices. This can help you take an active part in your care. You may have many questions and concerns about your treatment options. Your healthcare provider is the best person to answer questions about treatment. These can include what the treatment choices are, how well it might work, and what the risks and side effects may be. You may also want to know how you will have to change your normal activities. You should also ask how you’ll pass urine after treatment and whether treatment will cause changes in your sex life. 

Types of treatment

Treatment for urethral cancer is either local or systemic. Local treatments remove, destroy, or control the cancer cells in a certain area. Surgery and radiation are local treatments. Systemic treatments destroy or control cancer cells throughout your whole body. Chemotherapy is a systemic treatment. You may get just one treatment or a combination of treatments.

Another option in some cases is active surveillance. This means the cancer is not treated right away. Instead, your healthcare provider closely watches it with regular exams and tests. If the tests show that the cancer has started to grow, treatment is started.

Treatment options and their goals

Different types of treatments have different goals. Below is a list of urethral cancer treatments and their goals.

Surgery

The goal of surgery is to remove the tumor from the urethra. It’s also to leave as much of the urethra intact as possible to keep the best urinary control. Surgery is the most common treatment for urethral cancer.

Radiation therapy

The goal of radiation is to kill cancer cells by using high-energy beams of X-rays or other particles. This treatment is sometimes used to shrink a tumor before surgery so it's easier to remove. It can also be used to treat any cancer cells that may remain after surgery. If surgery isn’t possible, radiation may be used alone to treat urethral cancer.

Chemotherapy

The goal of chemotherapy (chemo) is to treat urethral cancer that has spread to other parts of the body. Chemo can also be used to treat tumors that cannot be treated with surgery or radiation. Chemo works by killing cancer cells or keeping them from dividing and growing. Sometimes it's used to shrink a tumor before surgery so it's easier to take it out.

Watchful waiting or active surveillance

This may be an option if the cancer is very slow growing. It can allow people to delay or even not have treatment, which can cause side effects and other problems.  

Clinical trials

Healthcare providers are looking for new ways to treat urethral cancer. These new methods are tested in clinical trials. Before starting treatment, ask your healthcare provider if there are any clinical trials you should consider.

Working with your healthcare provider to decide on a treatment plan

At first, thinking about your treatment options may seem overwhelming. It’s important to take the time to gather as much information as you can about your disease and its treatment. Then talk about this with your healthcare team and loved ones. Deciding on your treatment will be one of the most important decisions you'll make. Your healthcare provider is the best person to answer your questions. Many people find it helps to make a list of questions and concerns before seeing their healthcare provider. To make it easier to remember what he or she says, take notes. It might help to have a family member or friend with you, too.

It may take time to choose the best plan. Ask your healthcare provider how much time you can take to explore your options. You may want a second opinion from another healthcare provider before deciding on treatment. A second opinion can give you peace of mind and help you be sure you’re making the best choices for treatment. You may also want to talk with your family and friends.

Online Medical Reviewer: Kimberly Stump-Sutliff RN MSN AOCNS
Online Medical Reviewer: Lu Cunningham
Online Medical Reviewer: Marc Greenstein MD
Date Last Reviewed: 3/1/2019
© 2021 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.
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