The American Cancer Society estimates that about 1,530 new cases of penile cancer are diagnosed each year and about 280 men will die of penile cancer in 2006. Penile cancer occurs in about 1 man in 100,000 in the United States.
Although penis cancer is very rare in North America and Europe but much more common in some parts of Africa and South America, where it accounts for up to 10% of cancers in men.
Definition of penis cancer
Cancer of the penis (penile cancer) is a malignant growth of cells in the tissue and/or external area of the penis. Penis cancer is a very rare disease that is generally an aggressive form of cancer that has a tendency to spread.
Prognosis following diagnosis of penis cancer
If penile cancer has been diagnosed and treated early then the 5 year survival rate is 65%, so it is important to seek medical attention quickly. Elderly men are the most likely to suffer from this form of cancer.
Causes of penis cancer
The cause of penis cancer unknown but there is a higher incidence of penile cancer in uncircumcised men and men who do not keep the area under the foreskin clean. The presence of smegma, the cheese-like secretion under the foreskin, appears to increase the risk.
Signs symptoms of penis cancer
The most common symptom is a tender spot, wart like lump or open sore, usually painless, that originates on the tip of the penis. Pain and bleeding usually only occurs if the cancer is advanced. Penile cancer that is not treated can spread into the lymph nodes of the groin and on to other parts of the body. Malignant cells, cancer in the lymph nodes are abnormal, often painless, swellings.
Diagnosis of penis cancer
Diagnosis of penis cancer is made by the surgical removal and biopsy of the lump. This excludes other diseases such as penile warts or syphilis.
Stages of penis cancer
There are 4 stages of cancer of the penis
- Stage 1 penis cancer. Malignant cells are found only on the surface of the penis
- Stage 2 penis cancer. Malignant cells are found on the surface, tissues beneath the surface and in the shaft of the penis.
- Stage 3 penis cancer. Malignant cells have spread to the lymph nodes in the groin.
- Stage 4 penis cancer. Malignant cells have spread through the penis, lymph nodes in the groin and to other parts of the body.
Treatments for penis cancer
Treatments offered for penis cancer will depend on the stage the cancer has reached. Doctors specializing in cancer (oncologists) or the genital and urinary system, known as urologists are the best and most informed doctors to consult. They will then be able to advise how to proceed with treatment and who are the best doctors in this field of medicine.
Seeking early treatment for penis cancer is extremely important, putting off going to the doctor can cost your life.
Treatments for penile cancer include:
Surgery for penis cancer
Removal of the cancer is the most common treatment. If the cancer is small and localized to the tip, then a partial penectomy can be performed under a general anesthetic. This operation will allow you to maintain the ability to urinate normally and function sexually.
Microsurgery may be possible and this helps to remove the smallest amount of cancerous and minimal amounts of normal tissue to preserve as much of the organ as possible. In some cases the penis that remains can be enlarged surgically.If the cancer is more advanced then a total penectomy is the option. A new urethral opening is created in the groin to allow for urination. Urination is controlled via a 2on-off valve.
Radiotherapy for penis cancer
A course of radiotherapy may be used in conjunction with surgical removal of the cancer. This treatment can be done on an outpatient basis and is usually painless. It can cause some side effects such as sensitivity and irritation of the skin, loss of appetite, fatigue, rectal bleeding or injury, inflammation of the bladder, blood in the urine. The course of treatment using an external beam (rather like an X-ray machine) usually lasts 5 days a week for 6 to 8 weeks.
Medications for penis cancer
Chemotherapy may be used in conjuncture with surgery either intravenously, orally or in the form of a cream. The first course of the ‘chemo’ is usually started in hospital to monitor any side effects, it can then be given on an out-patient basis. There are a number of unpleasant side effects, for example, nausea and vomiting, hair loss and infertility (this can be temporary).
Councelling and Support for penis cancer
Sex lives will be changed. It is important to remind yourself that a successful sex life need not depend on solely on penile stimulation and that even if adapting to it is very difficult, the alternative is less attractive. Support groups are available and sometimes it can be very helpful after the initial shock. Seeking the advice of those who have experience makes you feel less isolated. The medical team responsible for your treatment will be able to answer your queries and that can put your mind at rest to a degree.
The American Cancer Society has an excellent website on sexuality and cancer that can give you an informed insight into common difficulties. If you and your partner can work through the issues together it will help.