Penile Cancer

Penile cancer is a very rare form of cancer that forms in the tissues of the penis. The majority of penile cancers begin as small lesions in the prepuce or foreskin, the loose skin that folds over the base of the glans. Penile cancer can also develop in the glans, the head or tip of the penis. Only about 1,300 men are diagnosed with penile cancer in the United States each year.



Because penile cancer is so rare, definitive risk factors are more difficult to pinpoint. It is believed that several risk factors can lead to the increase in incidences of penile cancer including: 

  • Age – Most cases of penile cancer are seen in men between the ages of 50 and 70 years.

  • Uncircumcised males – Circumcision at birth greatly reduces a man’s risk for developing penile cancer.

  • Smoking

  • Sexually transmitted diseases including the herpes simplex virus and Human papillomavirus (HPV) may increase the risk for developing penile cancer.  HPV 16 and HPV 18 are most often linked to penile cancer.

  • Inflammation or trauma to the penis



To help in the early detection of penile cancer, it is important to perform self-exams and to know your body. Any changes in appearance in the skin on or around the penis should be brought to the attention of your doctor.  Penile cancers usually begin as small, painless bumps or areas of discoloration on the glans or prepuce, that when caught early, are very treatable. Signs and symptoms of penile cancer vary from man to man.

Some of the more common symptoms of penile cancer include:

  • Change in the skin of the penis that may include redness or rash

  • Wart-like growth or small bump on the penis that may or may not be painful

  • An open sore that won't heal

  • Persistent, foul smelling discharge under the foreskin

  • Swollen lymph nodes in the groin if the cancer has spread


Treating Penile Cancer

After your doctor has determined the stage of your penile cancer, he or she will develop a comprehensive treatment plan designed to provide you with the best outcomes and minimal side effects. Treatments vary depending on the disease state.

Surgery is the most common treatment for all stages of penile cancer. Your doctor may use one of several procedures including:

  • Mohs microsurgery – The tumor is cut from the skin in thin layers. As each layer of skin is removed, it is viewed under a microscope to check for cancer cells. Layers are removed until no cancer cells are seen.

  • Laser surgery – A laser beam of light is used to remove lesions, or a tumor, on the skin.

  • Cryosurgery – Abnormal cancer cells and tissues are frozen and destroyed.

  • Inguinal Lymphadenectomy (groin dissection) – This surgical approach is used as a treatment for nodal disease.

  • Circumcision – Removes the foreskin of the penis.

  • Partial penectomy – The tumor on the penis, along with a part of the penis, is removed.

  • Total penectomy – The entire penis is surgically removed.

Radiation Therapy – Depending on the disease state of the cancer, radiation therapy may be used following surgery to treat affected lymph nodes or used to treat early stage tumors.

Chemotherapy – In a topical cream form known as 5-Fluorouracil is applied to the penis and is used only for precancerous lesions or in very early stage penile cancer. Systemic chemotherapy is sometimes integrated with surgery in advanced cases.

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