Penile cancer is a rare type of cancer that affects the tissues of the penis. It usually develops in the skin and may spread to other parts of the body if left untreated. The most common symptom of penile cancer is a lump or sore on the penis, which may be painful or itchy.
Types of Penile Cancer
There are several types of penile cancer, including –
- Squamous cell carcinoma: This is the most common type of penile cancer, accounting for more than 95% of cases. It starts in the skin cells of the penis and can spread to other parts of the body.
- Adenocarcinoma: This type of cancer starts in the sweat glands or other cells that produce fluid in the penis. It is less common than squamous cell carcinoma but can be more aggressive.
- Sarcoma: This rare type of cancer starts in the connective tissue of the penis, such as the blood vessels or muscles.
- Basal cell carcinoma: This type of cancer is less common and less aggressive than squamous cell carcinoma. It starts in the basal cells of the skin and can often be treated with surgery.
- Melanoma: This is a rare type of cancer that starts in the pigment-producing cells of the skin. It can occur on any part of the body, including the penis.
The vast majority of penile cancers are squamous cell carcinomas. However, it is important to accurately diagnose the type of cancer in order to determine the most effective treatment plan.
Causes and Risk Factors
There are several risk factors that can increase the likelihood of developing penile cancer, including –
- HPV infection
- Poor personal hygiene
- Phimosis (inability to retract the foreskin)
- Age (more common in older men)
If you are experiencing symptoms or have concerns about penile cancer, it is important to see a healthcare provider. Treatment options for penile cancer may include surgery, radiation therapy, chemotherapy, or a combination of these approaches, depending on the stage and location of cancer. It is important to catch and treat penile cancer as early as possible for the best chances of successful treatment and recovery.
The symptoms of penile cancer can vary depending on the stage of cancer. In the early stages, there may be no noticeable symptoms, which is why routine screening is important for early detection. However, as cancer progresses, the following symptoms may occur –
- A lump or growth on the penis
- Sores or ulcers on the penis, which may be painful or itchy
- Changes in the color or texture of the skin on the penis
- Bleeding or discharge from the penis
- Swelling or thickening of the skin on the penis
- Pain or discomfort in the penis or surrounding areas
- Enlarged lymph nodes in the groin
These symptoms may also be caused by other conditions, such as infections or benign growths. However, if you experience any of these symptoms or notice any such unusual changes then it is important to see a healthcare provider for an evaluation.
Diagnosis and Tests
If you have symptoms of penile cancer, your healthcare provider will likely perform a physical exam of your penis and groin area. They may also order one or more of the following tests to confirm a diagnosis of penile cancer –
- Biopsy: A small sample of tissue is removed from the penis and examined under a microscope to determine if cancer cells are present.
- Imaging tests: These tests may include an ultrasound, CT scan, or MRI to help determine the stage and extent of cancer.
- Blood tests: These tests can help determine the overall health of your body and may also help to detect certain markers that are associated with penile cancer.
- Sentinel lymph node biopsy: If penile cancer is present, it can spread to nearby lymph nodes. In this test, a small amount of dye is injected near the tumor site to identify the lymph nodes that drain the area. These lymph nodes are then removed and examined for cancer cells.
The diagnosis of penile cancer can only be made through a biopsy. If you are experiencing any symptoms or have concerns about penile cancer, it is important to see a healthcare provider for an evaluation.
The staging of penile cancer refers to the extent and spread of cancer. The stage of the cancer is an important factor in determining the appropriate treatment plan. The stages of penile cancer are typically classified as follows –
Stage 0: This is also known as carcinoma in situ or Bowen’s disease. It is the earliest stage of penile cancer and refers to cancer cells that are only in the top layer of skin on the penis.
Stage I: The cancer is grown into deeper layers of the skin or tissue beneath the skin, but has not spread to lymph nodes or other parts of the body.
Stage II: The cancer is spread to nearby lymph nodes or other nearby structures, such as the urethra or corpus cavernosum.
Stage III: The cancer is spread to the lymph nodes in the groin or pelvic area or to nearby organs, such as the bladder or prostate.
Stage IV: The cancer is spread to distant organs, such as the lungs or liver.
In addition to the stage of cancer, other factors that may affect treatment and prognosis include the size and location of the tumor, the grade of the cancer cells (how abnormal they appear under a microscope), and the patient’s overall health and medical history.
The treatment for penile cancer will depend on the stage and location of cancer, as well as the patient’s overall health and medical history. The following are some common treatments for penile cancer:
- Surgery: Surgery is often the primary treatment for penile cancer. The goal of surgery is to remove the cancerous tissue while preserving as much of the healthy tissue as possible. Depending on the location and size of cancer, many different types of surgeries are performed that includes –
- Partial penectomy – removing a portion of the penis and some shaft remains.
- Total penectomy – the entire penis is removed including the roots that extend the pelvis.
- Glansectomy – Skin grafts may be used to rebuild the glans after surgery.
- Groin Lymph node dissection – Swollen groin lymph nodes are removed if they have cancer cells. Sometimes, the nodes are swollen due to infection or inflammation and not cancer.
- Pelvic lymph node surgery – In this cancer found in 2 or more inguinal (groin) lymph nodes, pelvic lymph nodes will also be removed and checked.
2. Radiation therapy: Radiation therapy uses high-energy radiation to kill cancer cells. It may be used as the primary treatment for some types of early-stage penile cancer, or in combination with surgery or chemotherapy for more advanced cases. External radiation or internal radiation may be used by a healthcare professional depending on the type and stage of cancer.
- External beam radiation therapy – It is the most common type of radiation therapy used for penile cancer. During this procedure, a machine outside the body delivers high-energy radiation to the cancerous tissue, aiming to kill the cancer cells.
- Brachytherapy – It is another type of radiation therapy, that involves placing radioactive material directly into the tumor or surrounding tissue. This approach is less commonly used for penile cancer but may be considered for certain patients.
3. Chemotherapy: Chemotherapy uses drugs to kill cancer cells. It may be used in combination with surgery or radiation therapy for more advanced cases of penile cancer.
4. Immunotherapy: This treatment uses medications to stimulate the immune system to fight against cancer. Immunotherapy is a newer approach to treating penile cancer and may be used in combination with other treatments.
5. Palliative care: Palliative care is focused on managing symptoms and improving the quality of life for patients with advanced or terminal penile cancer. This may include medications to control pain or other symptoms, as well as emotional and spiritual support for patients and their families.
It is important to work closely with your healthcare provider to determine the best treatment approach for your individual situation.
Penile cancer is a rare but serious disease that can have a significant impact on a person’s quality of life. The prognosis for penile cancer varies depending on the stage and type of cancer, as well as other factors such as age and overall health. It is important to seek medical attention if you experience any symptoms such as changes in the skin of the penis, lumps or growths, discharge, or pain. With proper diagnosis and treatment, many people with penile cancer can achieve a good outcome and quality of life.