Procedure

Penile Cancer Treatment- Cancer/Oncology

Disclaimer: Please note that Mya Care does not provide medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. The information provided is not intended to replace the care or advice of a qualified health care professional. Always consult your doctor for all diagnoses, treatments and cures for any diseases or conditions, as well as before changing your health care regimen.

Penile Cancer Treatment (PDQ®)–Patient Version was originally published by the National Cancer Institute.

KEY POINTS

  • Penile cancer is a disease in which malignant (cancer) cells form in the tissues of the penis.
  • Human papillomavirus infection may increase the risk of developing penile cancer.
  • Signs of penile cancer include sores, discharge, and bleeding.
  • Tests that examine the penis are used to detect (find) and diagnose penile cancer.
  • Certain factors affect prognosis (chance of recovery) and treatment options.

Penile cancer is a disease in which malignant (cancer) cells form in the tissues of the penis.

The penis is a rod-shaped male reproductive organ that passes sperm and urine from the body. It contains two types of erectile tissue (spongy tissue with blood vessels that fill with blood to make an erection):

  • Corpora cavernosa: The two columns of erectile tissue that form most of the penis.
  • Corpus spongiosum: The single column of erectile tissue that forms a small portion of the penis. The corpus spongiosum surrounds the urethra (the tube through which urine and sperm pass from the body).

The erectile tissue is wrapped in connective tissue and covered with skin. The glans (head of the penis) is covered with loose skin called the foreskin.

Human papillomavirus infection may increase the risk of developing penile cancer.

Anything that increases your chance of getting a disease is called a risk factor. Having a risk factor does not mean that you will get cancer; not having risk factors doesn't mean that you will not get cancer. Talk with your doctor if you think you may be at risk. Risk factors for penile cancer include the following:

Circumcision may help prevent infection with the human papillomavirus (HPV). A circumcision is an operation in which the doctor removes part or all of the foreskin from the penis. Many boys are circumcised shortly after birth. Men who were not circumcised at birth may have a higher risk of developing penile cancer.

Other risk factors for penile cancer include the following:

  • Being age 60 or older.
  • Having phimosis (a condition in which the foreskin of the penis cannot be pulled back over the glans).
  • Having poor personal hygiene.
  • Having many sexual partners.
  • Using tobacco products.

Signs of penile cancer include sores, discharge, and bleeding.

These and other signs may be caused by penile cancer or by other conditions. Check with your doctor if you have any of the following:

  • Redness, irritation, or a sore on the penis.
  • A lump on the penis.

Tests that examine the penis are used to detect (find) and diagnose penile cancer.

The following tests and procedures may be used:

  • Physical exam and history : An exam of the body to check general signs of health, including checking the penis for signs of disease, such as lumps or anything else that seems unusual. A history of the patient’s health habits and past illnesses and treatments will also be taken.
  • Biopsy : The removal of cells or tissues so they can be viewed under a microscope by a pathologist to check for signs of cancer. The tissue sample is removed during one of the following procedures:
    • Incisional biopsy : The removal of part of a lump or a sample of tissue that doesn't look normal.
    • Excisional biopsy : The removal of an entire lump or area of tissue that doesn’t look normal.

Certain factors affect prognosis (chance of recovery) and treatment options.

The prognosis (chance of recovery) and treatment options depend on the following:

  • The stage of the cancer.
  • The location and size of the tumor.
  • Whether the cancer has just been diagnosed or has recurred (come back).

Stages of Penile Cancer

KEY POINTS

  • After penile cancer has been diagnosed, tests are done to find out if cancer cells have spread within the penis or to other parts of the body.
  • There are three ways that cancer spreads in the body.
  • Cancer may spread from where it began to other parts of the body.
  • The following stages are used for penile cancer:
    • Stage 0
    • Stage I
    • Stage II
    • Stage III
    • Stage IV

After penile cancer has been diagnosed, tests are done to find out if cancer cells have spread within the penis or to other parts of the body.

The process used to find out if cancer has spread within the penis or to other parts of the body is called staging. The information gathered from the staging process determines the stage of the disease. It is important to know the stage in order to plan treatment.

The following tests and procedures may be used in the staging process:

  • CT scan (CAT scan): A procedure that makes a series of detailed pictures of areas inside the body, such as the pelvis, taken from different angles. The pictures are made by a computer linked to an x-ray machine. A dye may be injected into a vein or swallowed to help the organs or tissues show up more clearly. This procedure is also called computed tomography, computerized tomography, or computerized axial tomography.
  • PET scan (positron emission tomography scan): A procedure to find malignant tumor cells in the body. A small amount of radioactive glucose (sugar) is injected into a vein. The PET scanner rotates around the body and makes a picture of where glucose is being used in the body. Malignant tumor cells show up brighter in the picture because they are more active and take up more glucose than normal cells do. When this procedure is done at the same time as a CT scan, it is called a PET/CT scan.
  • MRI (magnetic resonance imaging): A procedure that uses a magnet, radio waves, and a computer to make a series of detailed pictures of areas inside the body. A substance called gadolinium is injected into a vein. The gadolinium collects around the cancer cells so they show up brighter in the picture. This procedure is also called nuclear magnetic resonance imaging (NMRI).
  • Ultrasound exam: A procedure in which high-energy sound waves (ultrasound) are bounced off internal tissues or organs and make echoes. The echoes form a picture of body tissues called a sonogram.
  • Chest x-ray : An x-ray of the organs and bones inside the chest. An x-ray is a type of energy beam that can go through the body and onto film, making a picture of areas inside the body.
  • Biopsy : The removal of cells or tissues so they can be viewed under a microscope by a pathologist to check for signs of cancer. The tissue sample is removed during one of the following procedures:
    • Sentinel lymph node biopsy : The removal of the sentinel lymph node during surgery. The sentinel lymph node is the first lymph node to receive lymphatic drainage from a tumor. It is the first lymph node the cancer is likely to spread to from the tumor. A radioactive substance and/or blue dye is injected near the tumor. The substance or dye flows through the lymph ducts to the lymph nodes. The first lymph node to receive the substance or dye is removed. A pathologist views the tissue under a microscope to look for cancer cells. If cancer cells are not found, it may not be necessary to remove more lymph nodes.
    • Lymph node dissection : A procedure to remove one or more lymph nodes in the groin during surgery. A sample of tissue is checked under a microscope for signs of cancer. This procedure is also called a lymphadenectomy.

There are three ways that cancer spreads in the body.

Cancer can spread through tissue, the lymph system, and the blood:

  • Tissue. The cancer spreads from where it began by growing into nearby areas.
  • Lymph system. The cancer spreads from where it began by getting into the lymph system. The cancer travels through the lymph vessels to other parts of the body.
  • Blood. The cancer spreads from where it began by getting into the blood. The cancer travels through the blood vessels to other parts of the body.

Cancer may spread from where it began to other parts of the body.

When cancer spreads to another part of the body, it is called metastasis. Cancer cells break away from where they began (the primary tumor) and travel through the lymph system or blood.

  • Lymph system. The cancer gets into the lymph system, travels through the lymph vessels, and forms a tumor (metastatic tumor) in another part of the body.
  • Blood. The cancer gets into the blood, travels through the blood vessels, and forms a tumor (metastatic tumor) in another part of the body.

The metastatic tumor is the same type of cancer as the primary tumor. For example, if penile cancer spreads to the lung, the cancer cells in the lung are actually penile cancer cells. The disease is metastatic penile cancer, not lung cancer.

The following stages are used for penile cancer:

Stage 0

Stage 0 is divided into stages 0is and 0a.

  • In stage 0is, abnormal cells are found on the surface of the skin of the penis. These abnormal cells form growths that may become cancer and spread into nearby normal tissue. Stage 0is is also called carcinoma in situ or penile intraepithelial neoplasia.
  • In stage 0a, squamous cell cancer that does not spread is found on the surface of the skin of the penis or on the underneath surface of the foreskin of the penis. Stage 0a is also called noninvasive localized squamous cell carcinoma.

Stage I

In stage I, cancer has formed and spread to tissue just under the skin of the penis. Cancer has not spread to lymph vessels, blood vessels, or nerves. The cancer cells look more like normal cells under a microscope.

Stage II

Stage II is divided into stages IIA and IIB.

In stage IIA, cancer has spread:

  • to tissue just under the skin of the penis. Cancer has spread to lymph vessels, blood vessels, and/or nerves; or
  • to tissue just under the skin of the penis. Under a microscope, the cancer cells look very abnormal or the cells are sarcomatoid; or
  • into the corpus spongiosum (spongy erectile tissue in the shaft and glans that fills with blood to make an erection).

In stage IIB, cancer has spread:

  • through the layer of connective tissue that surrounds the corpus cavernosum and into the corpus cavernosum (spongy erectile tissue that runs along the shaft of the penis).

Stage III

Stage III is divided into stages IIIA and stage IIIB. Cancer is found in the penis.

  • In stage IIIA, cancer has spread to 1 or 2 lymph nodes on one side of the groin.
  • In stage IIIB, cancer has spread to 3 or more lymph nodes on one side of the groin or to lymph nodes on both sides of the groin.

Stage IV

In stage IV, cancer has spread:

  • to tissues near the penis, such as the scrotum, prostate, or pubic bone, and may have spread to lymph nodes in the groin or pelvis; or
  • to one or more lymph nodes in the pelvis, or cancer has spread through the outer covering of the lymph nodes to nearby tissue; or
  • to lymph nodes outside the pelvis or to other parts of the body, such as the lung, liver, or bone.

Recurrent Penile Cancer

Recurrent penile cancer is cancer that has recurred (come back) after it has been treated. The cancer may come back in the penis or in other parts of the body.

Recurrent Penile Cancer

Recurrent penile cancer is cancer that has recurred (come back) after it has been treated. The cancer may come back in the penis or in other parts of the body.

Treatment Option Overview

KEY POINTS

  • There are different types of treatment for patients with penile cancer.
  • Four types of standard treatment are used:
    • Surgery
    • Radiation therapy
    • Chemotherapy
    • Biologic therapy
  • New types of treatment are being tested in clinical trials.
    • Radiosensitizers
    • Sentinel lymph node biopsy followed by surgery
  • Treatment for penile cancer may cause side effects.
  • Patients may want to think about taking part in a clinical trial.
  • Patients can enter clinical trials before, during, or after starting their cancer treatment.
  • Follow-up tests may be needed.
There are different types of treatment for patients with penile cancer.

Different types of treatments are available for patients with penile cancer. Some treatments are standard (the currently used treatment), and some are being tested in clinical trials. A treatment clinical trial is a research study meant to help improve current treatments or obtain information on new treatments for patients with cancer. When clinical trials show that a new treatment is better than the standard treatment, the new treatment may become the standard treatment. Patients may want to think about taking part in a clinical trial. Some clinical trials are open only to patients who have not started treatment.

Four types of standard treatment are used:
Surgery

Surgery is the most common treatment for all stages of penile cancer. A doctor may remove the cancer using one of the following operations:

  • Mohs microsurgery: A procedure in which the tumor is cut from the skin in thin layers. During the surgery, the edges of the tumor and each layer of tumor removed are viewed through a microscope to check for cancer cells. Layers continue to be removed until no more cancer cells are seen. This type of surgery removes as little normal tissue as possible and is often used to remove cancer on the skin. It is also called Mohs surgery.
  • Laser surgery: A surgical procedure that uses a laser beam (a narrow beam of intense light) as a knife to make bloodless cuts in tissue or to remove a surface lesion such as a tumor.
  • Cryosurgery: A treatment that uses an instrument to freeze and destroy abnormal tissue. This type of treatment is also called cryotherapy.
  • Circumcision: Surgery to remove part or all of the foreskin of the penis.
  • Wide local excision: Surgery to remove only the cancer and some normal tissue around it.
  • Amputation of the penis: Surgery to remove part or all of the penis. If part of the penis is removed, it is a partial penectomy. If all of the penis is removed, it is a total penectomy.

Lymph nodes in the groin may be taken out during surgery.

After the doctor removes all the cancer that can be seen at the time of the surgery, some patients may be given chemotherapy or radiation therapy after surgery to kill any cancer cells that are left. Treatment given after the surgery, to lower the risk that the cancer will come back, is called adjuvant therapy.

Radiation therapy

Radiation therapy is a cancer treatment that uses high-energy x-rays or other types of radiation to kill cancer cells or keep them from growing. There are two types of radiation therapy:

  • External radiation therapy uses a machine outside the body to send radiation toward the cancer.
  • Internal radiation therapy uses a radioactive substance sealed in needles, seeds, wires, or catheters that are placed directly into or near the cancer.

The way the radiation therapy is given depends on the type and stage of the cancer being treated. External and internal radiation therapy are used to treat penile cancer.

Chemotherapy

Chemotherapy is a cancer treatment that uses drugs to stop the growth of cancer cells, either by killing the cells or by stopping them from dividing. When chemotherapy is taken by mouth or injected into a vein or muscle, the drugs enter the bloodstream and can reach cancer cells throughout the body (systemic chemotherapy). When chemotherapy is placed directly onto the skin (topical chemotherapy) or into the cerebrospinal fluid, an organ, or a body cavity such as the abdomen, the drugs mainly affect cancer cells in those areas (regional chemotherapy). The way the chemotherapy is given depends on the type and stage of the cancer being treated.

Topical chemotherapy may be used to treat stage 0 penile cancer.

Biologic therapy

Biologic therapy is a treatment that uses the patient's immune system to fight cancer. Substances made by the body or made in a laboratory are used to boost, direct, or restore the body's natural defenses against cancer. This type of cancer treatment is also called biotherapy or immunotherapy. Topical biologic therapy with imiquimod may be used to treat stage 0 penile cancer.

New types of treatment are being tested in clinical trials.

This summary section describes treatments that are being studied in clinical trials. It may not mention every new treatment being studied. Information about clinical trials is available from the NCI website.

Radiosensitizers

Radiosensitizers are drugs that make tumor cells more sensitive to radiation therapy. Combining radiation therapy with radiosensitizers helps kill more tumor cells.

Sentinel lymph node biopsy followed by surgery

Sentinel lymph node biopsy is the removal of the sentinel lymph node during surgery. The sentinel lymph node is the first lymph node to receive lymphatic drainage from a tumor. It is the first lymph node the cancer is likely to spread to from the tumor. A radioactive substance and/or blue dye is injected near the tumor. The substance or dye flows through the lymph ducts to the lymph nodes. The first lymph node to receive the substance or dye is removed. A pathologist views the tissue under a microscope to look for cancer cells. If cancer cells are not found, it may not be necessary to remove more lymph nodes. After the sentinel lymph node biopsy, the surgeon removes the cancer.

Treatment Options by Stage

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