Penile Cancer: The Basics
Penile cancer is caused by cells, either on the inside or outside of the penis, growing out of control. As the number of cells grows, they form into a tumor. There are a few types of penile cancer, but the most common is squamous cell cancer, which starts on the skin of the penis.
- No circumcision.
- Unretractable foreskin.
- Poor hygiene.
- HPV (Human Papillomavirus. A virus that can cause warts in the groin area.) or HIV infection.
There are no standard tests to look for penile cancer. If a man finds any new mark, wart, blister, sore, or white patch, he should talk to his healthcare provider.
Signs and Symptoms of Penile Cancer
- New lump, mass, or ulcer on the penis.
- Swollen lymph node in the groin (the area around the penis).
Diagnosis of Penile Cancer
When your healthcare provider thinks you may have penile cancer, they will order tests. These tests may include:
- Biopsy: take a piece of the penile tissue to look for cancer cells.
- Cystoscopy: a small camera is put through the opening of the penis and into the bladder to look for the spread of cancer.
- CT, MRI, or ultrasound may be done to check for spread of the cancer.
Staging Penile Cancer
To guide treatment, penile cancer is "staged." This stage is based on:
- Size and location of the tumor.
- Whether cancer cells are in the lymph nodes.
- Whether cancer cells are in other parts of the body.
Stages range from stage I to stage IV. The stage and type of penile cancer will help your provider decide on your treatment plan.
Treatments may include one or more of these:
- Surgery to remove the cancer on the skin of the penis or remove the affected part of the penis.
- Radiation can be used instead of surgery, alone, or with chemotherapy.
- Chemotherapy can either go into your blood stream (by IV) or directly onto the cancer (called topical).
Your provider may suggest a combination of treatments for the best result.
This article is a basic guide to penile cancer. You can learn more about penile cancer and treatments by using the links below.
Algan, O and Crook J. Primary and Adjuvant Radiation Therapy in the Management of Penile Cancer. 2014. P173-198.
American Cancer Society. Penile Cancer. Found at: https://www.cancer.org/cancer/penile-cancer.html
Hegarty PK et al. Penile cancer: organ-sparing techniques. British Journal of Urology. 2014; 114:799-805.
National Institute of Health. National Cancer Institute Penile Cancer Treatment (PDQ®). Found at: http://www.cancer.gov/types/penile
NCCN. Guidelines Version 2.2021. American Joint Committee on Cancer (AJCC) TNM Staging System for Penile Cancer (8th ed., 2017)
Van Poppel H., et al. Penile Cancer: ESMO Clinical Practice Guidelines for diagnosis, treatment and follow-up. Annals of Oncology. 2013. 24:115-124.
Wang J et al. Treatment for Metastatic Penile Cancer After First-line Chemotherapy Failure: Analysis of Response and Survival Outcomes. Urology. 2015 May;85(5):1104-1110.