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Penile Cancer

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Penile Cancer Overview

Penile cancer is a disease in which malignant cells are found on the skin and in the tissue of the penis. It is a rare cancer in the United States.

According to the American Cancer Society, penile cancer occurs in about one man out of 100,000. It accounts for 0.2 percent of cancers in men and 0.1 percent of cancer deaths. Penile cancer is most commonly found in men over age 50, although 20 percent of cases occur in men under 40.

Almost all penile cancers develop from skin cells called squamous cells. They can develop anywhere on the penis, but most commonly occur on the foreskin in uncircumcised men or on the glans (the tip of the penis).

Researchers believe that infection by human papillomavirus (HPV) is the most important, avoidable risk factor for penile cancer. HPV can cause benign, wart- like growths on the penis that may become cancerous if they are not treated.

Having multiple sexual partners, having sex with a partner who has had multiple partners, and having unprotected sex (not using a condom) at any age increase a person's risk of getting an HPV infection.

Smokers are at increased risk for many cancers, including penile cancer. Also, men who have not been circumcised and also practice poor hygiene may be at increased risk for penile cancer.

Diagnosing Penile Cancer

The first sign of penile cancer is usually a painless ulcer or growth on the penis, especially on the glans or foreskin. Other symptoms may include changes in color, skin thickening or accumulation of penile tissue. The cancer may appear as a reddish rash or as scaly bumps or flat growths.

Some of these symptoms may not be visible unless the foreskin is pulled back. Most penile cancers do not cause pain, but some can cause ulcerations and bleeding.

A number of benign conditions, including genital warts and infections, may give similar symptoms to penile cancer. For this reason, it is very important to get a correct diagnosis as early as possible.

Penile Cancer Treatment

Squamous cell penile tumors tend to grow slowly and can usually be cured when they are detected early. Early detection leads to treatment that is simpler, more effective, and less likely to cause significant side effect s or complications.

The three main methods for treating penile cancer are surgery, radiation therapy, and chemotherapy. Surgery is the most common treatment for all stages of penile cancer.

Most early stage penile cancers can be completely cured by fairly minor surgery. Techniques such as microscopic surgery and laser surgery remove the cancer while saving as much normal tissue as possible. Depending on the type, size, and extent of the tumor, t reatment may involve simple excision of the tumor, circumcision, or more extensive surgery.

Radiation may be used as an alternative to surgery or as an additional therapy to reduce the risk of recurrence. Chemotherapy is used to treat more advanced disease.

The Department of Urology provides expert diagnosis and treatment of penile cancer. Department surgeons perform a range of surgical options, including surgery to remove cancer that has spread to the lymph nodes.

For patient referral or consultations, contact the Department of Urology at 412-692-4100.