Penile Cancer

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Penile cancer is a rare form of cancer that develops in the tissues of the penis, which is the male reproductive organ responsible for urination and sexual function. It typically starts in the cells on or within the penis and can potentially spread to other parts of the body if left untreated.

At the University of Kansas Department of Urology, our specialized team is dedicated to advanced care and personalized treatment plans. Our experienced urologists employ cutting-edge technology to diagnose and treat various conditions, including penile cancer, all while remaining committed to your well-being and delivering compassionate care to enhance your quality of life.

Types of Penile Cancer

There are several types of penile cancer, including:

  • Squamous Cell Carcinoma (SCC): This is the most common type of penile cancer, accounting for approximately 95% of all cases. SCC originates in the flat, thin cells lining the penis, known as squamous epithelial cells. It typically develops in the foreskin or on the glans (head) of the penis and tends to progress slowly over time. Often, it begins as precancerous lesions referred to as penile intraepithelial neoplasia (PIN), eventually evolving into invasive SCC. While the exact cause is not always clear, several risk factors have been identified, including smoking, poor hygiene, and certain sexually transmitted infections.
  • Basal Cell Carcinoma: A rare form of penile cancer that starts in the basal cells of the epidermis (outer layer of the skin).
  • Adenocarcinoma: This type begins in the glandular cells of the penis and is less common than squamous cell carcinoma.
  • Sarcoma: Penile sarcoma is a rare type of cancer that develops in the connective tissues of the penis, such as the blood vessels or muscles.



The symptoms of penile cancer may vary, but common signs to watch for include:

  • Changes in the skin: This can include the appearance of lumps, ulcers, or sores on the penis, particularly those that do not heal.
  • Discoloration: Redness, a rash, or an unusual color change on the penis.
  • Bleeding: Unexplained bleeding from the penis, especially during erection or after intercourse.
  • Swelling: Swollen lymph nodes in the groin area, which may indicate that the cancer has spread.
  • Pain: Persistent pain or discomfort in the penis, which can occur in advanced stages.

Causes & Risk Factors

The exact cause of penile cancer is not always clear, but certain risk factors can increase the likelihood of developing this condition:

  • HPV (Human Papillomavirus): Infections with certain strains of HPV are linked to an increased risk of penile cancer.
  • Smoking: Tobacco use is associated with a higher risk of penile cancer.
  • Poor Hygiene: Lack of proper hygiene may increase the risk of penile cancer, as it can lead to chronic irritation and inflammation.
  • Phimosis: When the foreskin cannot be pulled back over the head of the penis, it can trap substances and lead to chronic irritation, potentially increasing the risk.
  • Age: Penile cancer is more common in older men, typically those over the age of 60.
  • Circumcision: Uncircumcised men may have a slightly higher risk than circumcised men, but circumcision alone does not eliminate the risk.

Regular self-examinations and routine check-ups with a healthcare provider are crucial for identifying any potential issues early on. If you notice any unusual symptoms or changes in your penis, it’s essential to seek medical advice promptly.


Diagnosing penile cancer typically involves a combination of medical history evaluation, physical examination, and diagnostic tests. Here’s how it is typically diagnosed:

  • Medical History: The doctor will ask about your medical history, including risk factors such as HPV infection, smoking, and phimosis.
  • Physical Examination: A thorough examination of the penis and the groin area will be conducted to look for any abnormalities, lumps, or signs of cancer.
  • Biopsy: If suspicious lesions or growths are found, a biopsy is usually performed. During a biopsy, a small sample of tissue is removed and examined under a microscope to confirm the presence of cancer and determine its type and stage.
  • Imaging Tests: Advanced cases or those where cancer may have spread to nearby lymph nodes or other organs may require imaging tests like CT scans, MRI scans, or ultrasound.


The treatment approach for penile cancer depends on the cancer’s stage, type, location, and the patient’s overall health. Common treatment options include:

  • Surgery: Surgery is the primary treatment for most cases of penile cancer. The extent of surgery may range from removing the cancerous lesion (local excision) to partial or total penectomy (removal of part or all of the penis). In some cases, lymph nodes in the groin may also be removed (inguinal lymph node dissection).
  • Radiation Therapy: Radiation therapy uses high-energy rays to target and kill cancer cells. It may be used as the primary treatment or in combination with surgery for larger tumors or when surgery isn’t an option.
  • Chemotherapy: Chemotherapy may be recommended for advanced penile cancer or when the cancer has spread to distant parts of the body. It involves the use of drugs to kill cancer cells or slow their growth.
  • Targeted Therapy: In some cases, targeted therapy drugs that specifically target cancer cells may be used, particularly for advanced or recurrent penile cancer.
  • Immunotherapy: Immunotherapy drugs can boost the body’s immune system to fight cancer cells. They may be used in certain cases or as part of clinical trials.


The outlook for penile cancer depends on various factors, including the stage at diagnosis, the type of cancer, the effectiveness of treatment, and the overall health of the patient. When penile cancer is detected at an early stage and treated promptly, the prognosis is generally better.

Localized penile cancer often has a good prognosis, with a high chance of cure. However, advanced stages of the disease or cases where the cancer has spread to other organs can be more challenging to treat and have a lower survival rate.

Prevention & Management

Preventing penile cancer and managing the condition effectively involve several key strategies:

  • HPV Vaccination: The human papillomavirus (HPV) vaccine can protect against certain strains of HPV that are linked to penile cancer. Vaccination is recommended for boys and young men as part of routine immunization.
  • Safe Sexual Practices: Practicing safe sex, including using condoms, can reduce the risk of HPV and other sexually transmitted infections that may contribute to penile cancer.
  • Good Hygiene: Maintaining proper hygiene, including cleaning the penis regularly, can help prevent chronic irritation and inflammation, reducing the risk of developing cancer.
  • Smoking Cessation: Quitting smoking is crucial, as tobacco use is a significant risk factor for penile cancer. Smoking cessation programs and support can be valuable in this regard.
  • Regular Self-Exams: Men should perform regular self-examinations of their genitals, including the penis, to detect any unusual changes or growths early on. If any abnormalities are noticed, they should seek prompt medical attention.
  • Circumcision: While circumcision is not a guarantee against penile cancer, some studies suggest that it may reduce the risk. This decision should be made in consultation with a healthcare provider and based on individual circumstances.


Penile cancer is a rare but serious condition that affects the tissues of the penis. It can have a significant impact on a person’s life and health. While it may not be entirely preventable, early detection and prompt treatment can greatly improve the chances of a successful outcome.

If you notice any concerning symptoms or have risk factors associated with this cancer, don’t hesitate to consult with a healthcare professional for evaluation and guidance.

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