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Penile cancer


What is the penis?

the human body

The penis is the external male genital organ. Inside the penis is the urethra, the tube through which urine and semen exit the body. The head of the penis is called the glans and at birth the glans is covered by a loosepiece of skin, known as foreskin.

What is cancer of the penis?

Cancer of the penis occurs when malignant cells develop in the skin or tissue of the penis. Cancer of the penis is very rare, but it is still very important to be aware of the signs and symptoms. If penile cancer is detected early, the chances of a complete recovery are very good. Penile cancer can develop anywhere on the penis, but most develop under the foreskin, in men who have not been circumcised or on the glans.

What is the cause of penile cancer?

The exact cause of cancer of the penis is unknown, however, uncircumcised men over the age of 40 are at greater risk of the disease. This does not mean that being circumcised will prevent penile cancer but it is thought to be a contributing factor.

What are the signs and symptoms of penile cancer?

Penile cancer usually arises under the foreskin, in men who have not been circumcised. Symptoms of penile cancer may include any of the following:

  • A reddish, velvety rash.
  • A painless growth, ulcer or sores on the penis, especially on the foreskin or glans.
  • A persistent, foul smelling discharge under the foreskin.
  • A wart like growth.
  • Any change in colour on the penis or the foreskin.
  • In advanced stages the lymph nodes in the groin may be swollen. This is a less common symptom.

There are other genital conditions, which may also have these symptoms such as genital herpes or syphilis. It is therefore important to discuss any unusual penile changes to your doctor or visit a G.U.M. clinic.

Am I at risk of getting penile cancer?

The following risk factors may put you more at risk of developing cancer of the penis:

  • Men who cannot (or do not) wash under their foreskins regularly. Uncircumcised men should wash daily under the foreskin to help prevent penile cancer. This is probably why men who have been circumcised, have improved hygiene and therefore are unlikely to develop penile cancer.
  • Men who are infected with a H.P.V. (Human Papilloma Virus), such as genital warts.
  • Men over 40, penile cancer is extremely rare in the under 40’s.
  • Men who smoke.

A delay in seeking advice would allow the disease to become more advanced. If you have any of the symptoms of penile cancer you must contact your doctor.

Is there anything I can do to prevent penile cancer?

As viral infections such as genital warts can increase the risk of penile cancer you should always practice safe sex. You should also practice good hygiene and always wash your penis thoroughly, especially under your foreskin. You should quit smoking, as this is an excellent way for preventing many diseases, including penile cancer.

As some men with penile cancer have had no known risk factors, it is not always possible to completely prevent the disease.

How is penile cancer diagnosed?

The doctor will usually begin by examining your penis if he/she suspects penile cancer you will be referred to a hospital for further tests. The first test you may have will be a biopsy, a small sample of the affected area is removed for analysis under a microscope. You may also require an  ultrasound or a CT scan for a final diagnosis and to see if the cancer has spread.

What is the treatment for penile cancer?

If penile cancer is caught early enough, circumcision may be effective. In further stages a part of the penis may need to be removed. If penile cancer is small, treatment should not have any affect on your sex life or your ability to urinate. Radiotherapy or chemotherapy may also be used to kill cancer cells and shrink tumours. Your doctor will help you decide which treatment is more suitable for you.