Overview – What is it?
Penile cancer is a rare type of cancer that occurs when normal healthy cells in the penis become cancerous causing them to grow rapidly and uncontrollably, forming a tumour. The penis is a rod-shaped organ in the male reproductive system which passes sperm and urine out of the body.
Some of the risk factors for this condition are having HPV or other conditions that compromise your immunity such as HIV/AIDs and smoking, among other factors.
This cancer can cause symptoms like bleeding, itching and changes in penis colour.
It can be diagnosed by performing a physical exam, a biopsy and by tests like a cystoscopy. The treatment for this cancer can be done through laser therapy, radiotherapy and cryosurgery, among other treatment options.
To prevent penile cancer, a man should reduce his risk factors by not smoking, getting regular check-ups and using protection during sex, among other preventive measures.
Causes – What causes it?
The exact cause of this cancer is not known but there are several risk factors for this condition including:
- HPV infection: Being infected with the human papilloma virus (which is passed through sex with an infected person) increases your risk of penile cancer.
- Certain health conditions: Having some health conditions such as HIV/AIDs which lowers your immunity, increases the risk of penile cancer.
- Smoking: Men who smoke are at a higher risk of developing this cancer than those who do not smoke.
- Phimosis and smegma: Phimosis is a condition that causes the foreskin to become tight and difficult to retract while smegma is a substance that forms when dead skin cells, moisture and oil accumulate underneath the foreskin. These conditions increase a man’s risk of getting penile cancer.
- Certain medications and treatments: Treatments such as surgical removal of the prostate gland can increase penile cancer risk.
Other risk factors include:
- Being 60 years and above,
- Practising poor personal hygiene, and
- Hormone imbalances, especially testosterone deficiency.
Symptoms – What do you feel?
Usually, the first symptoms for this cancer is a lump, mass or ulcer on the penis. However, other symptoms include:
- Changes in the way you ejaculate,
- Bleeding during ejaculation or urination,
- Having a burning feeling when urinating,
- Itching and irritation,
- Changes in penile colour,
- Swollen lymph nodes in the groin,
- Abnormal discharge from the penis,
- Pain in the penis,
- Decline in sexual desire, and
- A severely bent penis.
Diagnosis – How do you diagnose it?
Penile cancer can be diagnosed through:
- Physical exam: During the initial consultation, the doctor better understands the symptoms you are experiencing and your medical history. A physical exam is also done to check for any abnormalities in the penis such as lumps and whether the penis is bent.
- Biopsy: This is done by taking a small sample of tissue from the penis and viewing it under a microscope to check whether cancer cells are present.
- Imaging tests: These are done to give images of the inside of the penis using magnetic resonance imaging (MRI), a computerised tomography (CT) scan or by using an x-ray machine.
- Inguinal (groin) lymph node dissection: In this procedure, the lymph nodes near the penis are removed and checked for cancer cells. This is the most accurate method to determine whether the cancer has spread to the lymph nodes.
Treatment – How do you treat it?
The treatment of penile cancer depends on the stage of the cancer, the location and size of the tumour and whether it is a new diagnosis or a recurrence. After determining these factors, the cancer can then be treated using the following treatment options:
- Surgery: This is done to remove the tumour and the surrounding healthy cell. Types of surgeries for penile cancer include:
- Excision: This is the removal of the tumour and surrounding healthy tissue using a scalpel or other surgical tools.
- Penectomy: The surgical removal of part or all the penis.
- Mohs surgery: Surgery used to remove cancer that can be seen on the surface of the penis.
- Lymph node dissection: Removal of the lymph nodes in the groin and/or the pelvis. It can be used to determine the stage of the cancer apart from treating it.
- Laser therapy: This involves the use of a very powerful beam of light to destroy the cancer cells.
- Cryosurgery: It involves the use of liquid nitrogen to freeze and kill cancer cells.
- Chemotherapy: The use of anti-cancer drugs to kill the cancer cells.
- Radiotherapy: The use of high-energy beams to kill cancer cells and stop them from spreading.
Prevention – How do you prevent it?
There is no specific way to prevent penile cancer, however, the risk of this condition can be reduced if you do the following:
- Get vaccinated for HPV
- Stay physically active by doing regular exercises
- Be sexually responsible by ensuring you practise safe sex
- Practise good hygiene
- Do not smoke
- Eat a healthy diet and maintain a healthy body weight