Penile Cancer

Quick Facts

  • Growth of malignant tumors on the penis

  • Symptoms include lumps, lesions, and foul-smelling discharge

  • Treatment includes topical medication, surgery, and chemotherapy

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What is Penile Cancer?

Penile cancer is the development of malignant tumors on the shaft, head, or foreskin of the penis.

Penile Cancer Symptoms

Symptoms most often affect the skin of the penis and may include:

  • Thickening or discoloring of the skin
  • Lumps
  • Rashes that appear soft or red
  • Sores that crust over or bleed
  • Growths that are flat or blue-brown in color
  • Discharge, particularly odorous discharge, under the foreskin
  • Inflammation

Penile Cancer Causes

The cause of penile cancer is unknown, but evidence suggests that tumors may develop as a result of trapped fluids in the foreskin. Consequently, men who are uncircumcised have a greater risk of developing penile cancer. However, proper gential hygiene may mitigate this risk.

Sexually transmitted diseases such as AIDS and HPV (human papilloma virus) have also been linked to the development of penile cancer.

Penile Cancer Diagnosis

Since many of the symptoms of penile cancer may also be caused by an infection or an allergic reaction, the physician will begin by performing a physical examination to rule out other causes. The physician may order a urine culture or blood test to rule out infection.

If there is no infection, the physician may order a biopsy, a procedure in which a small piece of penile tissue is removed and sent to a laboratory for testing.

If the tests detect cancer cells, the physician will follow up with imaging tests such as x-rays, CT scans, ultrasounds, or MRI tests, to detect the presence of other tumors throughout the body.

Penile Cancer Treatment

Treatment for penile cancer varies according to progression. If found early, the cancer may be treated successfully with minimal risk to the patient. Small external tumors are often treated with skin cream or external beam radiation. In some cases, the tumor may be surgically removed through cryotherapy or Mohs surgery.

Cryotherapy is a procedure in which cancerous tissue is frozen and destroyed. Mohs surgery is a procedure in which layers of abnormal tissue are progressively removed until only normal tissue remains. If a large tumor is present, more tissue may need to be removed, and a surgeon may also drain or remove the lymph nodes to keep the cancer from spreading.

In advanced cases, the cancer is treated with a combination of surgery, radiation, and chemotherapy. Chemotherapy may lead to infertility. Patients who undergo chemotherapy may wish to consider preserving their sperm prior to treatment.

In some situations, all or part of the penis may be removed in a procedure called a penectomy.