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Penile Cancer

By

J. Ryan Mark

, MD, Sidney Kimmel Cancer Center at Thomas Jefferson University

Last full review/revision Aug 2019| Content last modified Jan 2020
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Cancers of the penis are usually types of skin cancers. Skin cancer can occur anywhere on the penis, but it most commonly occurs at the glans penis (the cone-shaped end of the penis), especially its base. Cancers affecting the skin of the penis, uncommon in the United States, are even rarer in men who have been circumcised.

Causes of Penile Cancer

Symptoms of Penile Cancer

Cancer usually first appears as a painless, reddened area, often with sores, but it can also be a hardened area or look like a wart. Cancers, unlike many other growths, do not heal for weeks. Erythroplasia of Queyrat causes a discrete, reddish, velvety or crusted area on the penis, usually on the glans penis or the inner foreskin. Bowen disease appears the same but affects the shaft. Bowenoid papulosis appears as bumps that are usually smaller, on the shaft of the penis. Lymph nodes in the groin may become enlarged because the cancer has spread to them or because they are infected and inflamed.

Diagnosis of Penile Cancer

Prevention of Penile Cancer

Treatment of Penile Cancer

  • Sometimes topical fluorouracil or imiquimod cream

  • Surgery

To treat early or small cancers, doctors prescribe a cream containing fluorouracil or imiquimod or remove the cancer and some normal surrounding tissue with a laser or during surgery. For other cancers, doctors surgically remove the cancer, sparing as much of the penis as possible. Usually, men who undergo this type of surgery are able to use the remaining penile tissue for urination and sexual function. If cancer involves larger areas, the penis needs more extensive surgery.

Sometimes penis cancer spreads to the lymph nodes in the groin, and these nodes may need to be removed. Men with multiple, bilateral or bulky inguinal lymph nodes concerning for cancer should be treated with neoadjuvant chemotherapy prior to surgical removal. If unresectable or locally advanced after resection, then radiation may also be a consideration.

In most men, cancers are small and have not spread. These men survive for many years after treatment. Most men with cancer that has spread beyond the groin lymph nodes die within 5 years.

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