While cancer of the penis is rare, if you’re at all concerned, check out our expert information and advice.
If you notice any peculiar lump, bump or sore area on your penis, it can be downright worrying, especially if you’re prone to jumping to the worst conclusion. But your chance of having cancer of the penis is actually very low, and the cause of the problem is likely to be something far less sinister – and easily fixable.
If you notice any soreness, pain or irregularity related to your manhood, as embarrassing as it may be, you need to visit your GP as soon as possible, so they can determine the cause, put your mind at rest and clear it up. And if they suspect it may be cancerous, they will be able to take immediate action.
Asif Muneer, consultant urological surgeon and andrologist offers his expert advice on the signs and symptoms of penile cancer, as well as treatment options and prevention.
What is penile cancer?
Penile cancer is a rare male genital malignancy, meaning a cancerous tumour, with approximately 600 new cases diagnosed each year in the UK. While this remains low, the incidence has progressively increased over the last 30 years. Penile cancer has two main risk factors:
• High-risk human papilloma virus (HPV) infection
This accounts for approximately 50 per cent of cases of penile cancer. There are more than 100 different subtypes of HPV, with the majority of subtypes being very common and showing no symptoms. High-risk subtypes can lead to pre-malignant disease and various cancers, one of which is cancer of the penis.
While there is no treatment for HPV, most subtypes clear up by themselves. However, if it causes problems, such as genital warts or abnormal cell changes in the cervix, treatment options include surgery or freezing methods or topical creams.
• An abnormal foreskin due to lichen sclerosus
This is a skin condition, which can see inflammatory discoloured patches appear anywhere on the body, but most often on the genital areas.
What causes penile cancer
Generally, older men are affected, although increasingly young men in their 30s and 40s are also being diagnosed.
Men with a foreskin are also more commonly affected than those without. This is because men who are not circumcised are more susceptible to contracting HPV, phimosis (a condition where the foreskin can become tight and hard to retract, due to lichen sclerosus) and smegma, which can come about when secretions build up underneath the foreskin – all of which are potential risk factors for cancer of the penis.
Additional penile cancer risk factors include:
- Poor hygiene of the penis.
- Phimosis – a tight foreskin that’s hard to retract.
- A weakened immune system (immunosuppression), as this can lower the body’s ability to fight off infections, such as HPV.
Symptoms of penile cancer
The three most common symptoms of penile cancer include:
- A flat growth or sore on the foreskin or the glans penis.
- Bleeding or discharge from the growth.
- Any change in colour or thickening of the skin.
While all three of these symptoms can be caused by other conditions as well, it’s always best to get them looked at by your GP as soon as possible.
Penile cancer treatment options
As with all cancers, the treatment for penile cancer will depend on both the stage and grade of your cancer, as well as your general health.
The main treatment for most penile cancer cases is surgery, and the operation will depend on where your cancer is prevalent. If the cancerous growth or sore is solely on the foreskin, then a circumcision is all that will be required.
If the glans penis is involved, then a circumcision combined with excision of the growth or excision of the glans (glansectomy) for deeper growths is required. In most cases it is possible to preserve the appearance of the penis.
In cases of penile cancer, it can spread firstly to the lymph nodes in the inguinal (groin) region, and you may be advised to have surgery to remove the lymph nodes from either one of both sides of the groin.
Penile cancer: prevention tips
The best ways to protect yourself against developing cancer of the penis include:
Practising good basic hygiene
Washing daily and cleaning under the foreskin (if uncircumcised) can help to prevent bacterial growth, which can in turn lead to penile cancer.
For men with HPV, smoking can contribute to developing penile cancer, so giving up smoking is a top prevention tip.
Seek help early
It’s important to seek medical advice early if you have any abnormalities, including a growth, sore, red area or lump that develops on your penis. If the red area or lump doesn’t disappear even with the use of relevant creams or medication, a referral to a specialist centre is advised.