What is penile cancer?
Penile cancer can occur on the foreskin, the glans (head) or shaft of the penis.
There are a few different types of cancer that can affect the penis, which may need different treatments.
Penile cancer is diagnosed in 1 in 125,000 Australian men each year. Most cases (more than 95%) are squamous cell carcinomas (a type of skin cancer that affects the outer layer of the skin (the epidermis), which can be easily cured if caught early.
Most cases of penile cancer occur in older males.
Symptoms of penile cancer
Signs of penile cancer can include:
• A lump or sore on the foreskin, glans or shaft of the penis that doesn’t go away after two weeks
• Bleeding from the penis or under the foreskin
• A smelly discharge or hard lump under the foreskin
• Changes in the colour or thickness of the skin of the penis or foreskin
• Pain or swelling of the glans of the penis
• Pain in the shaft of the penis.
Causes of penile cancer
Abnormal development of cells in the foreskin, glans or shaft of the penis can form a cancerous tumour that can spread to other parts of the body.
The cause of penile cancer in individual men is often unknown, but some things are known to increase the risk of penile cancer, including:
• Long-term balanoposthitis
• Poor hygiene
• Number of sexual partners
• Ultraviolet (UV) light exposure.
Diagnosis of penile cancer
Your doctor will ask you some questions, perform an examination and refer you for some tests to diagnose penile cancer. You might need a blood test, collection of a tissue sample (biopsy) or scan.
Treatment of penile cancer
If you’re diagnosed with penile cancer, your doctor will refer you to a urologist as a first step.
Surgery, radiation therapy and chemotherapy may be used to treat penile cancer, depending on the type and stage of the cancer.
Prevention of penile cancer
You can prevent your risk of penile cancer by:
• Practising good personal hygiene
• Getting vaccinated against human papillomavirus (HPV)
• Not smoking
• Avoiding UV exposure
• Getting treatment for inflammation that affects the genitals.
Circumcision in childhood or adolescence may reduce the risk of penile cancer by preventing foreskin problems that can occur if you don’t practise good hygiene.
Health effects of penile cancer
Eight out of every 10 cases of penile cancer are curable but there may be long-term effects on quality of life and sexual function.
What to do about penile cancer
If you notice any changes to the skin of your penis or experience any penile pain, you should see your doctor. The sooner you seek help, the earlier you can be diagnosed and start treatment.
This content is modified from Healthy Male: healthymale.org.au. This information has been provided for educational purposes only. It is not intended to take the place of a clinical diagnosis or proper medical advice from a fully qualified health professional. Healthy Male and International Society of Andrology both urge readers to seek the services of a qualified medical practitioner for any personal health concerns.