What is cancer of the penis?
Men who are not circumcised at birth may have a higher risk for getting cancer of the penis. A circumcision is an operation in which the doctor takes away part or all of the foreskin from the penis. The foreskin is the skin that covers the tip of the penis. A circumcision is done on many baby boys before they go home from the hospital.
A doctor should be seen if there are any of the following problems: growths or sores on the penis, any unusual liquid coming from the penis (abnormal discharge), or bleeding.
If there are symptoms of cancer, the doctor will examine the penis and feel for any lumps. If the penis doesn’t look normal or if the doctor feels any lumps, a small sample of tissue (called a biopsy) will be cut from the penis and looked at under a microscope to see if there are any cancer cells.
The prognosis (chance of recovery) and choice of treatment depend on the stage of the cancer (whether it is just in the penis or has spread to other places), and the patient’s general state of health.
Stages of cancer of the penis
Once cancer of the penis is found, more tests will be done to find out if the cancer has spread from the penis to other parts of the body (staging). It is important to know the stage of the disease in order to plan treatment. The following stages are used for cancer of the penis:
Cancer has spread to either:
Cancer has spread to either:
Cancer has spread:
anywhere in or near the penis and in one or more lymph nodes deep in the pelvis or groin; or
to distant parts of the body.
Treatment Option Overview
How cancer of the penis is treated
Surgery (taking out the cancer in an operation)
Surgery is the most common treatment of all stages of cancer of the penis. A doctor may take out the cancer using one of the following operations:
Mohs microsurgery is an operation that removes the cancer and as little normal tissue as possible. During this surgery, the doctor uses a microscope to look at the cancerous area to make sure all the cancer cells are removed.
Laser surgery uses a narrow beam of light to remove cancer cells.
Amputation of the penis is an operation that takes out all or part of the penis. It is the most common and most effective treatment of cancer of the penis. In a partial penectomy, part of the penis is taken out. In a total penectomy, the whole penis is removed. Lymph nodes in the groin may be taken out during surgery.
Radiation therapy uses x-rays or other high-energy rays to kill cancer cells and shrink tumors. Radiation may come from a machine outside the body (external radiation) or from putting materials that contain radiation through thin plastic tubes into the area where the cancer cells are (internal radiation). Radiosensitizers are drugs that make tumor cells more sensitive to radiation therapy. Combining radiation therapy with radiosensitizers may kill more tumor cells. Radiation may be used alone or after surgery.
Chemotherapy uses drugs to kill cancer cells. Fluorouracil cream (a topical anticancer drug) is sometimes used on the skin of the penis for very small surface cancers. Chemotherapy may also be given by pill or by a needle in a vein. When chemotherapy is given in this way, it is called a systemic treatment because the drugs enter the bloodstream, travel through the body, and can kill cancer cells outside the penis.
Biological therapy tries to get the body to fight cancer. It uses materials made by the body or made in a laboratory to boost, direct, or restore the body’s natural defenses against disease. Biological treatment is sometimes called biological response modifier (BRM) therapy. Imiquimod is a topical biological response modifier that may be used for small cancers on the surface of the penis.
Treatment by stage
Treatment of cancer of the penis depends on the stage of the disease, the type of disease, and the patient’s age and overall condition.
Standard treatment may be considered because of its effectiveness in patients in past studies, or participation in a clinical trial may be considered. Not all patients are cured with standard therapy and some standard treatments may have unwanted side effects. For these reasons, clinical trials are designed to find better ways to treat cancer patients and are based on the most up-to-date information. Clinical trials are ongoing in many parts of the country for most stages of cancer of the penis. Information about ongoing trials is available from the NCI Web site. To learn more about clinical trials, call the Cancer Information Service at 1-800-4-CANCER (1-800-422-6237); TTY at 1-800-332-8615.
Stage 0 Penile Cancer
Stage I Penile Cancer
Stage II Penile Cancer
Stage III Penile Cancer
Stage IV Penile Cancer
Recurrent Penile Cancer
Changes to This Summary (04/19/2006)
Changes were made to this summary to match those made to the health professional version.
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PDQ is a comprehensive cancer database available on NCI's Web site.
PDQ is the National Cancer Institute's (NCI's) comprehensive cancer information database. Most of the information contained in PDQ is available online at NCI's Web site. PDQ is provided as a service of the NCI. The NCI is part of the National Institutes of Health, the federal government's focal point for biomedical research.
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The PDQ database contains summaries of the latest published information on cancer prevention, detection, genetics, treatment, supportive care, and complementary and alternative medicine. Most summaries are available in two versions. The health professional versions provide detailed information written in technical language. The patient versions are written in easy-to-understand, nontechnical language. Both versions provide current and accurate cancer information.
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PDQ also contains information on clinical trials.
Before starting treatment, patients may want to think about taking part in a clinical trial. A clinical trial is a study to answer a scientific question, such as whether one treatment is better than another. Trials are based on past studies and what has been learned in the laboratory. Each trial answers certain scientific questions in order to find new and better ways to help cancer patients. During treatment clinical trials, information is collected about new treatments, the risks involved, and how well they do or do not work. If a clinical trial shows that a new treatment is better than one currently being used, the new treatment may become "standard."
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