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. People who think they may be at risk should discuss this with their doctor. 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.

Possible signs of penile cancer include sores, discharge, and bleeding.

These and other symptoms may be caused by penile cancer. Other conditions may cause the same symptoms. A doctor should be consulted if any of the following problems occur:

  • 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.

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).

The following stages are used for penile cancer:

Stage 0 (Carcinoma in Situ)

In stage 0, abnormal cells are found on the surface of the skin of the penis. These abnormal cells may become cancer and spread into nearby normal tissue. Stage 0 is also called carcinoma in situ.

Stage I

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

Stage II

In stage II, cancer has spread :

  • To connective tissue just under the skin of the penis. Also, cancer has spread to lymph vessels or blood vessels or the tumor cells may look very different from normal cells under a microscope; or
  • Through connective tissue to erectile tissue (spongy tissue that fills with blood to make an erection); or
  • Beyond erectile tissue to the urethra.

Stage III

Stage III is divided into stage IIIa and stage IIIb.

In stage IIIa, cancer has spread to one lymph node in the groin. Cancer has also spread:

  • To connective tissue just under the skin of the penis. Also, cancer may have spread to lymph vessels or blood vessels or the tumor cells may look very different from normal cells under a microscope; or
  • Through connective tissue to erectile tissue (spongy tissue that fills with blood to make an erection); or
  • Beyond erectile tissue to the urethra.

In stage IIIb, cancer has spread to more than one lymph node on one side of the groin or to lymph nodes on both sides of the groin. Cancer has also spread:

  • To connective tissue just under the skin of the penis. Also, cancer may have spread to lymph vessels or blood vessels or the tumor cells may look very different from normal cells under a microscope; or
  • Through connective tissue to erectile tissue (spongy tissue that fills with blood to make an erection); or
  • Beyond erectile tissue to the urethra.

Stage IV

In stage IV, cancer has spread:

  • To tissues near the penis 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 from the lymph nodes to the tissues around the lymph nodes; or
  • To distant parts of the body.

Reviewed by a Cleveland Clinic medical professional.

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