Cancer of the Penis (Penile Cancer)

Please note: the information below does not constitute medical advice. If you have any concerns at all, speak to your GP or consultant.

 

 

 

Approved: April 2024

 

 

 

Review date: April 2026

What is penile cancer

Penile Cancer is a rare cancer. Over 700 people will be diagnosed with penile cancer every year in the UK.

Who gets it?

Most cases of penile cancer are diagnosed in men after the age of 50 however younger men are also at risk and should be aware of signs and symptoms.

What is it?

The term ‘cancer’ describes the abnormal, uncontrollable growth of cells in the body, eventually forming masses called “tumours”. Penile cancer refers to the development of such tumours in the penis or foreskin.

Risk factors

The exact cause of penile cancer is not fully understood however, there are some factours that increase the risk:

  • Human Papilloma Virus (HPV). There are many types of HPV virus – some are common such as those that cause warts whilst others are considered high risk and can infect areas such as the anus, throat or penis. About 50% of men diagnosed with the most common type of penile cancer have been infected with one of these types of HPV.
  • Penile cancer is rare in men who have been circumcised (surgical removal of the foreskin) as a baby. Circumcision in later life does not reduce the risk of penile cancer.
  • Phimosis is the inability to pull back or retract the foreskin fully. It can be a result of skin irritation or inflammation or affect some men from birth. It can reduce the ability to clean the penis thoroughly and to notice any changes. It may also increase the risk of HPV infection. It is thought that men with phimosis may be 10 times more at risk of developing penile cancer.
  • Chronic inflammatory skin conditions such as lichen sclerosis / BXO
  • Smoking may increase the chance of developing penile cancer due to the chemicals found in cigarettes.
  • Being overweight.
  • Psoralen-UV-A Photochemotherapy (PUVA) is used to treat certain skin conditions such as psoriasis, as well as some types of cancer. High doses of PUVA can increase the risk of penile cancer.
  • Bowenoid papulosis is an HPV related lesion. It rarely progresses to penile cancer and can usually be surgically removed.
  • Bowens disease is found on the shaft skin of the penis. It is not linked to the HPV virus.

Symptoms of penile cancer

Symptoms of penile cancer may include:

  • A rash on the penis
  • A growth, ulcer or lump on the skin of the penis or foreskin
  • Bleeding from the penis or from under the foreskin
  • A smelly discharge
  • A change in the colour of the foreskin
  • A lump in the groin

Diagnosing penile cancer

Penile cancer is commonly diagnosed by taking sample(s) of the suspected area.  It may also be diagnosed following circumcision (surgical removal of the foreskin). The samples are then examined under the microscope. If cancer is diagnosed you may be referred to a specialist treatment centre for further assessment. These centres will have a team of healthcare professionals including surgeons who specialise in penile cancer.

 

Treating penile cancer

Treatment for penile cancer will vary depending on the stage at which it is diagnosed and . Staging determines the stage of the cancer, including whether it has spread beyond the penis to other parts of the body.

Treatment options may include:

  • Topical treatments (cream) such as a chemotherapy which destroys the cancer cells or immunotherapy which encourages the body’s immune system to fight the cancerous cells.
  • Radiotherapy which aims to shrink the cancer.
  • If caught early, circumcision or microsurgery (surgery in which minimal tissue is removed) may be an option. Surgical techniques are aimed to preserve as much of the penis as possible.
  • Cryotherapy where the cancer cells are frozen.
  • Laser ablation where a beam of light kills the cancer cells.
  • If the cancer is significantly advanced some combination of chemotherapy, radiotherapy or a total penectomy may be considered.

Clinical trials

For general information about clinical trials, including what they are and advice on how to find a clinical trial, click here.

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