Urethral Cancer: Diagnosis

March 21, 2017

Urethral Cancer: Diagnosis

How is urethral cancer diagnosed?

If your healthcare provider thinks you might have urethral cancer, you will need certain exams and tests to be sure. Diagnosing urethral cancer starts with your healthcare provider asking you questions. He or she will ask you about your health history, your symptoms, risk factors, and family history of disease. Your healthcare provider will also give you a physical exam. This may include a rectal exam and, in women, a gynecological exam to help determine if the cancer has spread to the vulva, vagina, uterus, or ovaries.

What tests might I need to find out if I have urethral cancer?

You may have one or more of these tests used to diagnose urethral cancer:

  • Blood and urine tests

  • Cystoscopy

  • Biopsy

Laboratory tests

Your healthcare provider may do test to check your blood cell counts and how well your organs are working. These can include your liver and kidneys. Blood tests can give an idea of your overall health. Your healthcare provider will collect your urine to see if there are cancer cells in it. This is called urine cytology.


In this test, a very thin, lighted tube is used to look at the inside of the urethra and the bladder. With this instrument, your healthcare provider can find the exact place and size of the tumor. Your healthcare provider may also use this procedure during a biopsy to remove a tissue sample.


If your healthcare provider thinks you have cancer, he or she may take a small tissue sample from that part of the urethra. This is called a biopsy. The piece of tissue might be taken out through the same tube used to do the cystoscopy. A pathologist will look at this sample under a microscope. This is a doctor who specializes in looking for cancer cells in biopsy tissue.

Getting your test results 

When your healthcare provider has the results of your biopsy, he or she will contact you with the results. Your provider will talk with you about other tests you may need if urethral cancer is found. Make sure you understand the results and what follow-up you need.

What tests might I need after being diagnosed?

If you have urethral cancer, you’ll likely need more tests. These tests help your healthcare team learn more about the cancer. They can help show if the cancer has grown into nearby areas or spread to other parts of your body. The test results help your healthcare providers decide the best ways to treat the cancer. If you have any questions about these or other tests, be sure to talk with your healthcare team.

Imaging tests

Computed tomography (CT) scan of your pelvis and abdomen 

A CT scan uses X-rays. In this test, you lie still on a narrow table as it slides into a ring-shaped CT scanner. A CT scan is painless. Your healthcare provider mat ask you to hold your breath 1 or more times. The X-ray beam moves around your body and takes a series of pictures from many angles. These different pictures are then combined by a computer. This gives your healthcare provider a very detailed cross section image of your body. This test can help show whether the tumor has spread to nearby organs or lymph nodes in your pelvis or abdomen.

Magnetic resonance imaging (MRI)

An MRI is a test that uses magnets and radio waves to take pictures of the inside of your body, much like a CT scan. MRIs do not use x-rays. During the test, you’ll lie still on a table as it passes into a long, narrow scanner tube. If you are claustrophobic, your healthcare provider may give you a sedative before having this test. In some instances, the MRI may be a better test to check the spread of cancer in your pelvis.


This test uses sound waves to look for problems in your abdominal organs. These include your liver, spleen, kidneys, uterus, and ovaries. The sound waves bounce off body parts and send back an image, like sonar on a submarine. A computer then looks at the signals sent back by the sound waves and creates an image of the body using those signals. In women, a special form of ultrasound (transvaginal ultrasound) can be helpful to see if cancer has spread to the uterus, vagina, or other nearby organs.


This test is a series of X-rays. Your healthcare provider takes these X-rays after a dye is put into your urethra and bladder. The dye shows up on the X-rays as it fills these areas. It can help find blockages and tumors on the linings of your urethra and bladder.

Chest X-ray

You may have a chest x-ray to check if the cancer spread to the lungs or lymph nodes in your chest.

Working with your healthcare provider

Your healthcare provider will talk with you about which tests you'll have. Make sure to get ready for the tests as instructed. Ask questions and talk about any concerns you have.


March 21, 2017

Reviewed By:  

Goodman, Howard, MD,Stump-Sutliff, Kim, RN, MSN, AOCNS