Introduction: What is Penile Cancer?
Penile cancer is a type of cancer that develops in the skin or tissues of the penis. While it is a rare type of cancer in developed countries, it is important for all men to be aware of the signs and symptoms. Catching penile cancer early greatly increases the chances of successful treatment and reduces the risk of the cancer spreading. This article aims to raise awareness about penile cancer by discussing its causes, risk factors, signs and symptoms, treatment options as well as prevention strategies.
What are the Causes of Penile Cancer?
The exact penile cancer causes are still unknown, but there are certain risk factors that are known to increase the chances of developing this type of cancer. Some of the main causes and risk factors include:
- HPV infection – Certain strains of the human papillomavirus (HPV), which is a sexually transmitted infection, have been linked to penile cancer. HPV 16 and 18 are known high-risk strains. Having many sexual partners increases the risk of HPV exposure and subsequent penile cancer.
- Smoking – Use of tobacco in any form, including cigarettes, cigars, pipes, chewing tobacco etc. increases the risk of penile cancer by damaging the DNA of cells in the penis.
- Weakened immune system – Conditions like HIV/AIDS that weaken the immune system are also associated with a higher risk of penile cancer.
- Age – The risk increases with age. Most penile cancers are diagnosed in men above 60 years of age.
- Poor hygiene – Not practising proper penile hygiene by washing regularly can increase the risk of infection and inflammation.
Signs and Symptoms of Penile Cancer
It is important for men to be aware of the common Penile Cancer signs and symptoms so that they can seek medical help promptly if they notice any abnormalities. Some of the early signs to watch out for include:
- A growth or lump on the penis, usually on the head or foreskin.
- A change in the colour of the skin of the penis, like dark or reddish patches.
- Bleeding or discharge other than normal secretions from the tip of the penis.
- A persistent sore or ulcer on the penis that does not heal.
- Change in the shape or size of the penis.
- Pain or discomfort in the area of the penis.
- Swelling or thickening of the skin on the penis.
- Redness and irritation under the foreskin.
These Penile cancer symptoms may not always indicate cancer and could be caused by other less serious conditions like infection. However, it is best to see a doctor for evaluation and early diagnosis if any of these signs persist for more than 2 weeks. Ignoring or delaying treatment could allow cancer to progress to more advanced stages.
Stages of Penile Cancer
Once diagnosed, penile cancer is staged to determine how far it has progressed. The most commonly used system is the TNM staging system which considers factors like the size of the tumour (T), whether it has spread to lymph nodes (N) and distant organs (M). The stages are:
- Stage 0 – Abnormal cells are present only in the outermost layer of skin.
- Stage I – Cancer is only affecting the foreskin or glans penis.
- Stage II – Cancer has spread deeper into tissues of the penis or to the urethra.
- Stage III – Cancer has spread to one or both inguinal lymph nodes in the groin.
- Stage IV – Cancer has spread to distant organs like lungs or liver.
The stage helps determine the appropriate treatment and provides an idea about the prognosis. Early stage cancers have a very good chance of cure with proper treatment.
Diagnosis of Penile Cancer
If symptoms indicate the possibility of penile cancer, the doctor will conduct several tests to confirm the diagnosis:
- Physical examination – The doctor will inspect the penis for any abnormal growths, ulcers, discoloration etc. Retracting the foreskin is important.
- Biopsy – A small sample of the suspicious tissue is surgically removed and examined under a microscope by a pathologist to check for cancer cells.
- Imaging tests – An ultrasound, CT scan or MRI may be done to determine the depth and spread of cancer.
- Blood tests – To check overall health before treatment.
- Urine tests – To rule out infections.
- Swab tests – To check for HPV infection in some cases.
The biopsy is essential to confirm penile cancer and determine the appropriate treatment course. Early diagnosis leads to better treatment outcomes.
Treatment Options for Penile Cancer
Treatment depends on the stage and grade of cancer. The main Penile Cancer treatment options are:
For stage 0 or IA cancers, partial or total penectomy may be done.
For higher stages, lymph node dissection is also required to remove cancer spread.
Mohs microsurgery removes cancer layer by layer under microscope guidance.
External beam radiation uses high energy x-rays to kill cancer cells. Given with chemotherapy.
Brachytherapy implants radioactive seeds near tumours for a short period.
Used for advanced or recurrent cancers, given as tablets or intravenous.
Boosts effects of radiation therapy.
Immunotherapy uses the body’s immune system to fight cancer.
Approved for advanced cancers, has fewer side effects than chemotherapy.
Cryotherapy and Laser Therapy
Uses extreme cold or heat to destroy visible lesions.
The treatment aims to remove all cancerous tissue while preserving sexual and urinary functions if possible. Treatment related side effects depend on the modality used but usually improve over time. Ongoing follow ups help monitor for recurrence.
Prevention of Penile Cancer
While penile cancer risk can be reduced but not eliminated completely, following a few preventive measures can help lower the chances:
- HPV vaccination for boys and men up to 45 years.
- Condom use during sexual activity to avoid HPV and other STI exposure.
- Avoiding multiple sexual partners and practising safe sex.
- Not smoking or chewing tobacco.
- Proper penile hygiene, especially in uncircumcised men.
- Treating conditions like phimosis and balanitis promptly.
- Using sunscreen on penis when outdoors for prolonged time.
- Managing medical conditions like HIV/AIDS and diabetes.
- Seeing a doctor if any penile abnormalities are noticed.
Adopting a healthy lifestyle and practising safe sex are important preventive strategies against penile cancer. Early medical attention for any penile issues can detect potential cancers at an early treatable stage.
In summary, while penile cancer is a rare type of cancer, it is important for all men to be aware of its potential risk factors, signs and symptoms. Catching it early when treatment options are less morbid is key to a good long term prognosis. Adopting preventive measures and not ignoring early warning signs can help reduce the chances of developing this cancer. If you are also seeking medical help for urological issues , you can contact and book an appointment with Dr. Saket Narnoli , who is known to be the Best Urologist in Dhanbad Providing Excellent Urological Services. With timely medical care, many men diagnosed with penile cancer can be successfully treated while preserving sexual function.