Penile cancer happens when the cells present in the penis begin to grow abnormally and form a tumour.
Penile cancer is one of the rare cancers, and it is more common among uncircumcised men. Apart from this, chronic HPV infection is also a risk factor for penile cancer.
Penile cancers are treated best when they are detected in their early stages. Therefore, it is important for one to not ignore any symptoms and consult a doctor for immediate medical attention.
Based on the cell type that they originate from, penile cancers are categorised into the following types:
Penile cancers are easy to detect in their early stages as a change in the texture and appearance of the penis is one of the first symptoms of penile cancer. Following are other key symptoms of penile cancers:
Not always do these symptoms indicate penile cancer; they could be a result of an infection, too. However, to be sure, one must consult a doctor without any delay.
The exact causes of penile cancer are unknown. However, there are a few risk factors that can increase the chances of one getting penile cancer. Following are the important risk factors associated with penile cancer:
Penile cancers are relatively easier to treat when they’re diagnosed early. There are various tests recommended by the doctor for the detection and diagnosis of penile cancer:
a. Physical Examination and Medical History Assessment: When a patient presents himself with penile cancers symptoms, the doctor recommends a physical exam before any test. During this procedure, the doctor thoroughly examines the organ for the presence of lesions, lumps and bumps along with changes in the colour and texture. The doctor may also take a note of the patient’s medical history wherein questions about the patient’s underlying medical conditions, previous treatments, allergies, if any, may be asked.
b. Biopsy: If the doctor finds a lump or any other abnormalities, a biopsy may be recommended. During the biopsy, a small amount of tissue may be collected from the suspected area and examined for the presence of cancer. Biopsy plays a significant role in achieving a definitive diagnosis for penile cancers.
c. Cystoscopy: To check if penile cancer has spread to nearby organs, the doctor may suggest a cystoscopy. During this procedure, a flexible tube that is fitted to a light source and video camera is inserted through the bladder into the penis. Through cystoscopy, the doctor examines different regions of the penis for the signs of cancer.
d. Imaging Tests: Imaging tests, such as MRI scan, PET CT scan, etc., may be recommended to check if penile cancer has spread to other organs. These tests are also employed in disease staging, treatment planning, treatment monitoring and disease restaging.
e. Lymph Node Dissection: Lymph node dissection is a surgical procedure performed to remove the lymph nodes that are present close to the tumour. These lymph nodes are later examined for the presence of cancer cells. This procedure helps doctors in determining if the cancer has started spreading to other organs.
There are multiple treatment options available for the management of penile cancers. A multitude of factors, namely the disease stage, the exact location of the tumour, its grade, the patient’s age, the overall condition of the patient, etc., are considered before devising a treatment plan.
Usually, the treatment plans for penile cancers comprise surgery, radiation therapy and chemotherapy.
a. Surgery: Surgery is the main line of treatment recommended for penile cancer management. The surgery aims to remove cancer cells and preserve the organ’s structure and function whenever feasible. Multiple surgical procedures are available for the management of penile cancers, and one of them may be recommended depending on the severity of the condition:
b. Radiation Therapy: Radiation therapy for penile cancer involves destroying the cancer cells using high-energy radiation beams, which could either be X-rays or proton beams. Radiation therapy may be combined with other treatment options, namely surgery and chemotherapy, to positively impact the treatment response. Radiation therapy may be administered externally or internally.
This treatment may also be recommended to ease the symptoms caused by the disease.
c. Chemotherapy: Chemotherapy is a systemic therapy that destroys cancer cells by using powerful anticancer drugs. Chemotherapy may be administered before the surgery (neoadjuvant chemotherapy) to shrink the tumour and/or after the surgery (adjuvant chemotherapy) to destroy the residual cancer cells and bring down the risk of a relapse.
Chemotherapy may be administered orally, intravenously or topically. Topical chemotherapy is usually recommended for early-stage penile cancers.
Yes, penile cancers are treatable. In many cases, it can be treated with positive clinical outcomes and excellent survival rates, and patients can go back to their normal lives without many challenges.
Nevertheless, for penile cancers to be treated successfully, they have to be detected in the early stages. It is important to not ignore any changes in the structure, texture or swelling, and if any of these are witnessed, one must immediately consult a doctor.
There is no standard screening procedure available for penile cancer. However, early detection may still be possible.
One can look out for any changes in the skin, namely the colour, texture, abnormal growths, blisters or sores regularly. Many are usually uncomfortable reporting the anomalies that they see. However, this should be avoided. Anything abnormal should be immediately reported to the doctor, as this is one of the easiest ways to catch penile cancers in their early stages.
Unfortunately, penile cancers can come back in a few cases. However, they can be treated successfully if they are caught early.
In order to catch recurrences early, patients must keep up their follow-up appointments that will be scheduled at regular intervals after the treatment.
There are no known ways to prevent penile cancers completely. However, you can follow a few measures that can bring down your penile cancer risk: