Penile Cancer: Frequently Asked Questions
What is the penis?
The penis is part of the external male genitalia.
It contains many types of tissue, like skin, nerves, and blood vessels. The urethra
is inside the penis. This is the tube through which urine and semen leave the body.
The tip of the penis is called the glans. The foreskin covers the glans. Every male
has a foreskin at birth. Circumcision is the removal of a part or the entire foreskin
on the penis at birth or later on in life.
What is penile cancer?
Penile cancer is a kind of cancer that begins in the cells of the penile tissue. It
is very rarely found in the United States. Although there are different types of penile
cancer, most are squamous cell carcinoma. This means the cancer begins in the flat
skin cells of the penis called squamous cells. Most squamous cell penile cancers begin
on the foreskin or on the glans. Squamous cell penile cancer is slow-growing and,
when found in its early stages, can be cured.
Can penile cancer be prevented?
Although there is no definite way to prevent penile cancer, there are some risk factors
a man can avoid. In the past, it was thought that circumcision as an adult could help
prevent penile cancer. This is not true. Only circumcision done as an infant or young
child appears to lower the risk of penile cancer. Here are some actual ways to help
prevent penile cancer:
Avoid HPV infection by practicing safe sex.
Quit smoking, or never start.
Practice good personal hygiene habits, especially if you are uncircumcised.
What are the symptoms of penile cancer?
Many men will have symptoms in the early stages of penile cancer. The most common
symptoms are changes in color or thickness of the skin, unusual discharge, ulcer or
sore, and swelling at the end of the penis. A man with any skin changes or sores around
the penis should see a healthcare provider.
How is penile cancer diagnosed?
Healthcare providers will examine your penis, testicles, groin, and abdomen. If they
see anything unusual they will take a sample of tissue called a biopsy. From this
biopsy they will determine whether or not you have penile cancer.
How is penile cancer treated?
Men may have 1 or more of these treatments for penile cancer:
Should everyone get a second opinion after a diagnosis of penile cancer?
Many people with cancer get a second opinion from another healthcare provider. These
are some of the many reasons to get a second opinion:
Not feeling comfortable with the treatment decision
Being diagnosed with a rare type of cancer
Having several choices for how to treat the cancer
Not being able to see a cancer expert
Many men have a hard time deciding which penile cancer treatment to have. It may help
to have a second healthcare provider review the diagnosis and treatment choices before
starting treatment. It is important to remember that in most cases, a short delay
in treatment will not lower the chance that it will work. Some health insurance companies
even require that a person with cancer seek a second opinion. Many other companies
will pay for a second opinion if asked.
How can I get a second opinion?
There are many ways to find a healthcare provider who can give a second opinion. Here
are some examples:
Call your primary healthcare provider. Your primary healthcare provider may be able
to recommend a healthcare provider who specializes in cancer.
Call the Cancer Information Service. Call 800-4-CANCER. This service tells callers
about treatment facilities, cancer centers, and other treatment programs supported
by the National Cancer Institute.
See other resources. People with cancer can get the names of healthcare providers
using local medical societies, nearby hospitals or medical schools, local cancer advocacy
groups, or other men who have had penile cancer.
How will penile cancer affect a man’s sexuality?
If a man diagnosed with penile cancer has a partial or total penectomy (surgery to
remove the penis), his healthcare team will discuss the procedure before surgery.
The side effects of this surgery can be difficult to deal with. It may be helpful
for a man to seek counseling to deal with the loss of part or all of the penis. Often,
healthcare providers can leave enough of the penis intact so that the man can still
urinate as he did before and function sexually. However, the whole penis may need
to be removed to treat some cancers.
What are clinical trials?
Clinical trials are studies of new kinds of cancer treatments. Healthcare providers conduct
clinical trials to learn how well new treatments work and to learn what the side effects
may be. If the new treatments look promising, they are then compared to the current
treatments to see if they work better or have fewer side effects. People who participate
in clinical trials may benefit from access to new treatments before the FDA approves
them. Participants also help future cancer patients and further our understanding