Penile cancer

Cancer of the Penis at a Glance:

  • Cancer of the penis is more common in uncircumcised men.
  • Cancer can present as growths or sores on the penis.
  • Cancer can cause abnormal discharge or bleeding from the penis.
  • Treatment depends on the stage of the cancer.
  • Treatments include surgery, radiotherapy and chemotherapy.
  • The prognosis (chance of recovery) depends on the stage of the cancer.


What is cancer of the penis?

Cancer of the penis is a disease in which malignant cells originate in the tissues of the penis. Cancer of the penis is, fortunately, extremely rare in the UK.


Which men are at increased risk for penile cancer?

Men who are not circumcised at birth have a higher risk for developing cancer of the penis. (A circumcision is an operation in which the doctor takes away part or all of the foreskin, the skin which covers the tip of the penis.)


What causes cancer of the penis?

A virus that can be sexually transmitted called human papillomavirus (HPV), particularly HPV 16, has been connected to the development of cervical cancer. Since antibodies against HPV 16 are present in over 60% of patients with cancer of the penis, HPV 16 appears to play a role also in causing cancer of the penis.


What are the symptoms of cancer of the penis?

Growths, sores or ulcerated areas on the penis, any unusual liquid coming from the penis (abnormal discharge), or bleeding.


What will the doctor do?

The doctor will examine the penis and feel for any lumps. If the penis does not look normal or if the doctor feels any lumps, they may refer you to a specialist doctor for a biopsy. The specialist doctor may refer you for a CT scan of the pelvis and abdomen area to detect if the cancer has spread to other parts of the body.


What is the biopsy?

A small sample of tissue (a biopsy) is removed from the penis and looked at under a microscope to detect any cancer cells.


Is surgery common for cancer of the penis?

Surgery is the most common treatment of all stages of cancer of the penis . The surgeon may take out the cancer using one of the following operations:

  • Wide local excision takes out only the cancer and some normal tissue on either side.
  • Microsurgery is an operation that removes the cancer and as little normal tissue as possible. During this surgery, the doctor uses a microscope to look at the cancerous area to make sure all the cancer cells are removed.
  • Laser surgery uses a narrow beam of light to remove cancer cells.
  • Circumcision is an operation that removes the foreskin.
  • Amputation of the penis is an operation that removes the penis(penectomy). It is the most common and most effective treatment of cancer of the penis. In a partial penectomy, part of the penis is taken out. In a total penectomy, the whole penis is removed. Lymph nodes in the groin may be taken out during surgery.

What is the radiation treatment for penile cancer?

Radiation therapy uses x-rays or other high-energy rays to kill cancer cells and shrink tumors. Radiation may come from a machine outside the body (external radiation) or from putting materials that contain radiation through thin plastic tubes into the area where the cancer cells are (internal radiation). Radiation may be used alone or after surgery. Please remember that not all patients will require this type of treatment option.


What is the chemotherapy for penile cancer?

Chemotherapy uses drugs to kill cancer cells. Fluorouracil cream (a chemotherapy drug put on the skin of the penis) is sometimes used for very small surface cancers of the penis. Chemotherapy may also be given by pill or by a needle in a vein. When chemotherapy is given in this way, it is called a systemic treatment because the drugs enter the bloodstream, travel through the body, and can kill cancer cells outside the penis.


What are the side-effects of treatment?

Radiotherapy can cause tiredness, itching and dry skin. However, these are not severe and can be helped or prevented by drugs. Chemotherapy can cause loss of appetite, tiredness, ringing in the ears, shortness of breath, nausea, vomiting, mouth ulcers, infections, kidney problems and hair loss. The higher the dosage, the more severe the side effects. Patients on high-dose chemotherapy are monitored carefully by their doctors.