“Penile cancer is usually slow growing and if caught early there is a cure” – Miriam Stoppard

dr Miriam Stoppard explains why we need to raise awareness about penile cancer, which affects around 400 men each year, mostly over the age of 60

Penile cancer is rare but takes up more space, says Dr. Miriam Stoppard
Penile cancer is rare but takes up more space, says Dr. Miriam Stoppard

I recently replied to a letter to the editor about penile cancer, and while it’s rare, I feel it needs more space.

Fortunately, there are only about 400 cases per year, diagnosed mostly in men over the age of 60.

The good news is that it is usually a slow-growing cancer that very often can be caught early when a cure is possible.

Cancer mainly develops under the foreskin and on the head (glans).

We don’t know why penile cancer occurs, but poor hygiene could be a factor, as it’s much less common in circumcised men.

Cancer of the penis mainly develops under the foreskin and on the head (glans)


(Getty Images/iStockphoto)

Infection with the human papillomavirus (HPV), which causes penile (and vaginal) warts, also increases your risk, and your chance of developing cancer is higher if you smoke.

It’s important to examine your penis regularly so you know how it looks and feels so you can easily spot any stubborn changes.

The cancer can take several forms — a red rash under the foreskin, difficulty pulling the foreskin back (phimosis), flat bluish-brown growths, a painless lump or ulcer on the penis that won’t heal, and swollen lymph nodes in your groin.

If you find any of these things, contact your doctor directly, who will refer you to a specialist for a biopsy.

If the results are positive, further tests may be done, including removal of a gland from the groin, known as a lymph node biopsy, and scans.

If the results are positive, further tests can be carried out


(Getty Images/iStockphoto)

The spread of penile cancer is “staged,” which helps determine the right treatment for you and your prognosis.

Stage 1 cancer is only found on the surface of the penis, stage 2 has spread deeper into the penile tissues, stage 3 has spread to the lymph nodes of the groin, while stage 4 cancer has spread to other parts of the body.

You have several treatment options here including surgery, radiation therapy and rarely chemotherapy.

There is also cryotherapy (freezing) or simple excision under local anesthesia for small stage 1 cancers; if the cancer has spread more deeply (stage 2) a wider excision under general anesthesia and a short hospital stay; and a penectomy (removal of part or all of the penis) for cancer that has spread deep into the penis (stage 2 and higher). If the end of the penis needs to be removed, reconstruction may be an option.

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Radiation therapy is usually given as short daily treatments lasting up to six weeks, and you will be examined, scanned and X-rayed regularly for several years.

Ask for assistance if you are having trouble getting an erection and urinating.

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