Cancer of the Penis

A rare, cancerous tumour that usually occurs on the head of the penis

  • More common over the age of 40
  • Smoking and not being circumcised are risk factors
  • Genetics is not a significant factor

Cancer of the penis is a rare disorder that almost exclusively occurs in uncircumcised men, particularly those in whom the foreskin does not retract (see Phimosis). It is more common in men over the age of 40. Infection with the human papillomavirus, which causes genital warts, is thought to increase the risk of developing the cancer. Smoking also seems to be a risk factor.

The tumour commonly develops on the head of the penis (the glans). It appears as a wart-like growth or flat, painless sore that may be hidden by the foreskin. Sometimes, the growth may bleed or produce an unpleasant-smelling discharge. The cancer usually grows slowly, but, if left untreated, it may spread to the lymph nodes in the groin and to other parts of the body.

A sore area on the penis should be examined by a doctor immediately.

What might be done?

Your doctor will carry out a physical examination and may take a swab to check for infections that can produce similar symptoms. He or she may also arrange for a biopsy, in which a sample of the growth is removed to be examined under the microscope for evidence of cancer.

If it is detected early, a tumour on the penis can often be treated successfully with surgery, radiotherapy, or a combination of both. Surgery involves either partial or complete amputation of the penis. In some cases, penile reconstruction may be possible following amputation. Radiotherapy may be recommended as the first choice treatment because it offers the chance of curing the cancer without loss of the penis.

The outlook depends on how far the cancer has advanced before treatment. About 9 in 10 men who have received treatment for penile tumours that have not spread survive for 5 years or more. If the cancer has spread only to lymph nodes in the groin, about 6 in 10 men survive for 5 years or more after treatment. If the cancer has spread beyond the groin, only about 2 in 10 men survive for 5 years or more after treatment.

From the 2010 revision of the Complete Home Medical Guide © Dorling Kindersley Limited.

The subjects, conditions and treatments covered in this encyclopaedia are for information only and may not be covered by your insurance product should you make a claim.

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