With less than 1 man in 100,000 being diagnosed, penile cancer is rare in North American and Europe, accounting for less than 1% of cancer deaths. According to the American Cancer Society’s 2017 estimated statistics, in the United States, 2,120 men were diagnosed with, and 360 deaths resulted from, penile cancer. It is much more common, however, in parts of Asia, Africa, and South America.
It is not known what causes penile cancer, but several risk factors have been identified:
Many of the signs and symptoms of penile cancer are also related to other conditions. The first sign may be the change in character of skin of the penis. However, if you notice any of these indicators, it is a good idea to see your doctor:
The diagnostic tests not only help in making the diagnosis but also in determining the stage of cancer (how far the cancer has spread).
Stage 0: The cancer has not spread beyond the top layer of skin.
Stage I: Cancer has grown just beyond the top layer of skin but not into nearly blood vessels, lymph vessels, or nerves. It is not high grade. It has not spread to nearby lymph nodes or distant sites.
Stage II: Cancer has grown just beyond the top layer of skin and into nearby blood vessels, lymph vessels, or nerves, and/or it is high grade. OR Cancer has grown into the corpus spongiosum (internal chamber along the bottom of penis) or corpus cavernosum (internal chambers along the top of the penis). It has not spread into nearby lymph nodes or distant sites.
Stage III: Cancer has spread into tissue below the top layer of skin and may have spread into the corpus spongiosum or corpus cavernosum. It has also spread into 1-3 nearby groin lymph nodes on the same side of the body or to groin lymph nodes on both sides of the body, but has not spread to distant sites.
Stage IV: Cancer has spread to nearby structures (scrotum, prostate, or pubic bone) OR has spread to nearby lymph nodes in the pelvis or has grown outside of a lymph node into the surrounding tissue OR has spread to distant parts of the body.
Depending on the type and stage of the cancer, overall health, and personal preferences regarding side effects, treatments options include the following:
There is no guaranteed prevention for penile cancer, but avoiding the risk factors can greatly reduce your chances of a diagnosis. For circumcised men, this means avoiding HPV and HIV infection and not smoking. For uncircumcised men, maintaining good genital hygiene is also important.