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What is Penile Cancer?

Penile cancer is when the penis, the organ that passes sperm and urine from the body in males, forms cancer cells in its tissue.

Risk factors for penile cancer include:

  • Being older than 60
  • Having phimosis [fahy-MOS-sis], a condition where the foreskin can’t be pulled over the glans
  • Poor personal hygiene
  • Having lots of sexual partners
  • Using tobacco

Signs of penile cancer include:

  • Irritation or redness
  • Sores
  • A lump on the penis
  • Penile discharge

Once penile cancer is diagnosed, tests will be done to see if the cancer has spread to any other parts of the body. There are five stages of penile cancer, stages 0, I, II, III, and IV.

Penile cancer may be treated with:

  • Surgery
  • Radiation [rey-dee-EY-shuhn] therapy
  • Chemotherapy [kee-moh-ther-uh-pee]
  • Biologic [bahy-uh-LOG-ik] therapy

The treatment used depends on the stage of the cancer. Some treatments are not effective for certain stages.

Symptoms

The symptoms of penile cancer can vary, but include:

  • Redness
  • Irritation
  • Sores
  • A lump on the penis
  • Difficulty peeing
  • Weight loss

The symptoms also change depending on the stage of the cancer, the location of the tumor, and where the cancer has spread

Stage 0 symptoms include:

  • Abnormal cells or wart-like growths on the skin of the penis

Stage 1 symptoms include:

  • Stage 0 symptoms, but the cancer has spread to connective tissue
  • Cancer has not spread to lymph vessels or blood vessels

Stage 2 symptoms include:

  • Cancer has spread to one lymph node in the groin
  • Cancer has spread to connective tissue, and may have spread to lymph or blood vessels, urethra [yoo-REE-thruh], or erectile tissue

Stage 3 includes two sub-stages, 3a and 3b.

  • Stage 3a symptoms include:
    • Cancer has spread to one lymph node in the groin
    • Cancer has spread to all areas of stage 2
  • Stage 3b symptoms include:
    • Cancer has spread to more than one lymph node on one or both sides of the groin. Cancer has spread to all areas of stage 2

Stage 4 symptoms include:

  • Cancer has spread to areas around the penis, like the prostate or pelvis
  • Cancer has spread to distant parts of the body

When to See a Doctor

Visit your doctor if you notice any strange lumps or sores on the skin of your penis. It’s important to get to your doctor quickly because the cancer may move to other parts of your body if left untreated.

Causes

Penile cancer is caused by cells that become malignant [muh-LIG-nuhnt] in the tissues of the penis. These cells don’t stop growing like normal cells, which causes a tumor that can spread to other parts of your body.

Diagnosis and Tests

Tests to check for penile cancer include:

  • Physical exam and health history. During this test, your doctor will check for unusual bumps or lumps on the skin of your penis, and ask questions about your health history.
  • Biopsy. In this test, a small sample of tissue or cells will be removed for study under a microscope for signs of cancer.

After cancer has been found, more tests will be done to see if it has spread:

  • CT scan
  • MRI
  • Ultrasound
  • Chest x-ray
  • Biopsy

Treatments

Penile cancer may be treated in many ways. There are four different types of standard treatment, and two new kinds of treatment that are still in testing.

The standard treatment methods include:

  • Surgery. In this treatment, the tumor is cut or removed from the skin. Methods include lasers, freezing, or removal of all or part of the penis. Surgery may be followed by other treatment methods.
  • Radiation therapy. Radiation uses x-rays to kill cancer cells and stop them from growing. There are two types of radiation:
    • Internal radiation uses a radioactive substance inside a needle that is placed into or near the cancer.
    • External radiation uses a machine outside the body to send x-rays to the cancer.
  • Chemotherapy. This treatment method uses drugs to stop the growth of cancer. The drugs either kill the cancer cells or stop them from moving to other places in the body.
  • Biologic therapy. This treatment boosts the patient’s immune system to help fight the cancer.

Other, new types of treatment can be tried in clinical trials. Ask your doctor if you can try any of these.

Prevention

Some of the risks of penile cancer can be avoided or prevented with the right care. These include:

  • Bad personal hygiene. Keeping your genital area clean can reduce your risk of penile cancer.
  • Tobacco use. Quitting smoking can help you be healthier, and reduces your risk of penile and other kinds of cancer.
  • Genital warts or HPV. If you are under the age of 25, you can get an HPV vaccine that will prevent the virus that increases your risk of cancer.
  • Penis injury. Taking steps to stay safe and avoid risks can help keep your penis and other parts of your body safe.

Avoid these risks to lower your chance of getting penile cancer.