Penile cancer, or cancer of the penis, is a relatively rare form of cancer that affects the skin and tissues of the penis. It occurs when normally healthy cells in the penis become cancerous and begin to grow out of control, forming a tumor. The cancer may eventually spread to other areas of the body, including the glands, other organs, and lymph nodes. Approximately 1,300 cases of penile cancer are diagnosed in the United States every 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.
- 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
Symptoms And Diagnosis
Symptoms of penile cancer may include sores on the penis, abnormal discharge and bleeding. Men who notice a lump or experience redness, soreness or irritation on the penis should visit a urologist to rule out other conditions or to confirm a penile cancer diagnosis. The following tests and procedures may be used to diagnose penile cancer:
Physical exam and history: An exam of the body to check general signs of health, including checking the penis for signs of disease, such as lumps or anything else that seems unusual. A history of the patient’s health habits and past illnesses and treatments will also be taken.
Biopsy: The removal of cells or tissues so they can be viewed under a microscope by a pathologist to check for signs of cancer.
Treatment for penile cancer is given by cancer specialists (oncologists). Some specialize in surgery, some in radiation therapy and others in chemotherapy (drugs). These doctors work with the patient to decide on a treatment plan. Treatment plans are designed to meet the unique needs of each person with cancer. Treatment decisions for penile cancer are based on the stage of the cancer and the location of the cancer (either the glans of the penis or shaft of the penis) The most common types of surgeries to treat and remove penile cancer are:
Mohs microsurgery: a surgeon cuts the tumor from the skin in small layers. Each layer is examined under a microscope until no cancer cells are present. This allows for minimal tissue removal.
Laser surgery: a laser beam acts as a knife to access the tissue or remove surface cancerous cells.
Cryosurgery: a procedure that kills cancer cells by freezing them.
Wide local excision: a traditional surgery that removes the cancer and a layer of normal tissue surrounding the tumor.
Penis amputation: may be performed partially or totally in order to ensure the cancer is completely eradicated.