Penile Cancer

What is Cancer of the Penis?

Tissues in the penis contain several types of cells. Different types of penile cancer can develop in each kind of cell. It is important for doctors to identify the differences because they determine the seriousness of the cancer and the type of treatment needed. About 1,500 American men will be diagnosed with penile cancer this year. It is very rare and occurs in about 1 per 100,000 men annually in the United States.

Cancer of the penis is a rare form of cancer which typically results from the chronic irritation that may occur in uncircumcised men. The most common type of penile cancer is called epidermoid carcinoma, which develops in the skin of the penis. About 95% of penile cancers develop from flat skin cells called squamous cells. Penile tumors tend to grow slowly. If they are found at an early stage, these tumors usually can be cured. Squamous cell penile cancers can develop anywhere on the penis but most develop on the foreskin (in men who have not been circumcised) or on the glans (the rounded, gland-like head of the penis).

Treatment Options for Penile Cancer

Surgery is the most common, and elective, treatment for penile cancer is surgery. The cancer is removed from the penis using one of the following methods:

  • Laser surgery, which uses a narrow beam of light to kill the cancer cells.

  • Microsurgery to remove the penile 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.

  • Circumcision to remove the foreskin if the penile tumor is confined to this area.

  • Wide local excision, which removes only the penile cancer and some normal tissue on either side.

  • Surgery to remove part or all of the penis. In a partial penectomy, the surgeon removes a portion of the penis without altering normal urinary function. In a total penectomy, the majority of the penis is removed. This then requires diversion of the urinary stream by creating a perineal urethrostomy so the bladder can be emptied without the need for a tube to drain it. Additionally, lymph nodes in the groin may be removed in an attempt to stage and cure the patient of the disease.

Radiation Therapy for Penile Cancer

Radiation therapy (external or internal) also can be used to treat penile cancer by destroying the cancer cells and shrinking the tumor. Radiation may be used alone or after penile cancer surgery.

Chemotherapy for Penile Cancer

Fluorouracil cream, a chemotherapy drug put on the skin of the penis, is sometimes used for small superficial cancers of the penis. Chemotherapy also may be given by pill or intravenously as a form of systemic treatment that can travel through the body and can kill cancer cells that may have spread.

For more information about genitourinary cancer treatment and prevention at Fox Chase Cancer Center or to make an appointment, please call 1-888-FOX CHASE (1-888-369-2427).

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