Penile cancer is when malignant (cancer) cells develop in the tissues of the penis.
While the condition is rare in the United States, it is relatively common in many parts of the world. The majority of penile cancers develop as a type of skin cancer, which can be cured when detected early.
The most common early symptom of penile cancer is a change in the skin of the penis, especially in the head (glans) or foreskin.
Such changes can include:
- A warty growth
- A painless nodule
- White patches
- A rash
These symptoms also are common in benign conditions such as genital warts or infections, so it is important to discuss them with a physician. Penile cancer generally does not cause pain; however, as it progresses it can cause ulceration and bleeding.
Causes and Risk Factors
Human papillomavirus (HPV) infection has been linked to penile cancer in men. The chances of HPV infection are higher in men who were not circumcised as an infant and/or have multiple sexual partners.
Other risk factors for developing penile cancer include:
- Phimosis, which is a condition in which the foreskin is too tight to be pulled back over the glans
- Having a weakened immune system
- Poor personal hygiene
- Men older than 60
- Undergoing UV treatment for psoriasis
Diagnosis begins with a physical exam. If there is abnormal skin or a growth, a biopsy of the area is taken to determine if the cells are cancerous. If the biopsy shows that the cells are cancerous, additional tests to determine the extent and stage of the cancer will be conducted. These tests may include an ultrasound, as well as computed tomography (CT) and magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) scans to determine if the cancer has spread to other parts of the body.
If the physician is concerned the cancer has spread, he or she usually will do a biopsy of nearby lymph nodes, as well.
Penile cancer often is curable if detected early.
For small superficial tumors, surgery is often the best method of treatment. Minimally invasive techniques such as cryosurgery, which destroys cancer cells by freezing them, allow the surgeon to leave the surrounding healthy cells undamaged. This aids in maintaining the appearance and function of the penis.
More invasive cancer may need more extensive surgery and treatment, including removing the lymph nodes near the penis, chemotherapy and radiation therapy.
The knowledgeable and highly trained staff at the Urology Oncology Program in the Cedars-Sinai Samuel Oschin Comprehensive Cancer Institute will work with each patient to determine the best treatment option.