What is penile carcinoma?
Penile cancer is a rare cancer which accounts for around 0.4 percent of all malignancies. It starts when the cells on the penis begin to grow out of control.
The term penile cancer is used to describe one of several types of cancer that start on the penis. There are several different types of penile cancer which range in aggressiveness and produce different symptoms. The most common form of penile cancer is a carcinoma, which starts in skin cells.
Types of penile cancer
Squamous cell carcinoma
Making up around 95% of cases, squamous cell carcinoma is the most common type of penile cancer. It usually appears as a firm or rough red sore or a brown patch of skin.
Squamous cell carcinoma is usually easily treatable if detected early. It is also the slowest spreading form of penile cancer.
Melanoma moves faster and more agressively than squamous cell carcinoma. It usually appears as sores, redness, or swelling in the affected area. Although much rarer than squamous cell carcinoma, melanoma makes up the second largest portion of penile cancers.
With melanoma, it is crucial that the cancer is detected early. This can significantly aid in treatment.
Basal cell carcinoma
Basal cell carcinoma is a common type of skin cancer which begins in the basal cells. The basal cells are what produce new skin cells as the old ones die.
Basal cell carcinoma is the least likely type of cancer to spread. This usually makes treating it a simpler process, since there is only one area that needs to be targeted.
Causes and risk factors for penile cancer:
The exact cause for penile cancer is unknown. However, scientists have determined that it is linked to other conditions and treatments.
A risk factor is something that is linked to an increased likelihood of penile cancer. It could be a lifestyle choice, condition or previous treatment or proceduce. Risk factors do not guarantee that penile cancer wil occur. Similarly, a lack of risk factors does not necessarily protect you from penile cancer.
- HPV infection – Human papillomaviruses (HPV) are a type of virus which can potentially cause warts around the genital area. These warts can increase the risk of penile cancer.
- Age – Men over the age of 50 are more liekly to be diagnosed with a form of penile cancer.
- Not being circumcised – Circumcision is the process of removing the foreskin to improve hygeine and reduce the risk of infection. Research has shown that circumcision significantly decreases the risk of penile cancer occurring. The reason for this reduced risk is unclear. However, many people think that is because circumcised men cannot develop conditions such as Phimosis and are at reduced risk of infection.
- Phimosis – Phimosis is a condition where the foreskin becomes difficult to retract. This can lead to the build up of secretions called smegma. Penile cancer has proven to be more common in men with Phimosis.
- Smoking tobacco – The use of tobacco is linked with a higher risk of penile cancer, as well as many other cancers. This is because harmful chemicals are exposed to your lungs, which are then absorbed through the blood.
Symptoms of penile cancer
Men with penile cancer may experience the following signs and symptoms. It is important to remember that since theire are several different types of penile cancer, all symptoms may not be present.
- A growth, wart or sore on the glans or foreskin.
- A rough or thick skin tecture
- A red rash underneath or around the foreskin
- Persistant pain or irritable sensations around the saft or tip of the penis
- Swollen lymph nodes
- Blood coming from the tip of the penis, or around the foreskin.
If you are experiencing any of the symptoms listed above, it is important that you see a professional for advice. A doctor who knows what to look for may be able to diagnose your penile cancer, allowing treatment to begin.
Treatment for penile cancer
There are several common types of treatment which can aid in reducing or removing penile cancer. The effectiveness of these treatments depends on several factors, such as where the cancer is located, what type of penile cancer it is and how much it has spread.
The most common forms of treatment for penile cancer are surgery, radiation therapy and chemotherapy.
Following a diagnosis, your doctor(s) will work with you to create a plan in treating your penile cancer. This may include some of the following treatments:
During surgery, a surgeon will attempt to remove the tumour as well as some surrounding tissue (called a margin). The removal of the margin is done to reduce the risk of cancer reocurring. The surgery will likely be overseen by surgical oncologists or urologist who has experience in dealing with penile cancers.
There are several common types of surgery used to treat penile cancer. These includfe:
During laser therapy, a powerful laser is used to destroy cancer cells. It is generally considered the most efficient and effective method. One drawback is that it doesn’t give surgeons the chance to see if cancer has spread. Laser surgery is effective in treating small, early-stage tumours.
Circumcision is the removal of the foreskin via surgery. If surgeons determine that cancer is only present on the foreskin, a circumcision may be performed to remove it.
During cryotherapy, liquid nitrogen is used to freeze and kill cancer cells.
During excision, the tumour will be removed from the penis using a surgical tool such as a scalpel. Some surrounding tissue will also be removed to prevent the cancer from regrowing.
Penectomy describes the surgical removal of part or all of the penis. It is considered a disfiguring surgery and is usually reserved for cases where cancer has grown inside the organ. The advantage of this procedure is that it is the most effective and can help in cases where the cancer has spread.
A partial penectomy allows for the tumour and surrounding margin to be removed, while preserving the patient’s ability to urinate normally.
When a partial penectomy is not possible, a total penectomy may be necessary. This is where the entire organ is removed. The urinary tract will then be tunneled underneath the scrotum, meaning that the patient will have to urinate while sitting down.
During radiation therapy (or radiotherapy), high-energy x-rays or other waves are used to destroy cancer cells. The process is overseen by a radiation oncologist.
Radiation therapy may be used pre-surgery to make a tumour easier to operate on. It may also be used post-surgery to destroy any cancer that is left over.
The most common form of radiation therapy for penile cancer is external beam therapy, where a machine administers radiation to the afflicted area.
Side effects of radiation therapy may include:
- Irritated skin – itching, blistering or peeling
- Loose bowel movements
- Increased risk of developing other cancers in the future
Chemotherapy describes the use of drugs to target and destroy cancer cells. The type of drugs vary depending on the type and severity of the cancer. The drugs limit the cancer’s ability to grow and divide.
Prior to chemotherapy, your doctor will create a plan or schedul which may consist of several sessions. During these sessions, drugs will be administered either orally or intravenously.
Chemotherapy can cause several side effects. These include:
- Extreme fatigue
- Loss of appetite
- Loss air hair
- Increased risk of infection
- Bowel issues such as constipation or diarrhoea.
WHAT SUPPORT CAN WE GIVE FOR PENILE CANCER?
Penile cancer is a rare cancer, meaning it is not as well known as other forms of cancer. Without a Ribbon is an Australian organisation that provides support for individuals who suffer from rare cancers. We provide a designated platform for Warriors to obtain information specific to their Rare Cancer. We also provide annual opportunities for our Warriors to meet and learn from each other. If you suffer from a rare cancer such as penile cancer, we can help and support you through your journey thanks to the generous donations we receive. Click the link below to sign up and become a Warrior today!
ACCESS THE PENILE CANCER SUPPORT PORTAL
Become a Warrior today to access our penile cancer support portal. Inside, you will find a list of available resources, forums and support sources made for sufferers of penile cancer. Becoming a Warrior is completely free.
YOU CAN HELP US WITH YOUR DONATION:
Without a Ribbon is a charity that works hard to aid those who suffer from rare cancers. You can help our cause in a variety of ways: Donations – Without a Ribbon is grateful for every donation received. Giving to Without a Ribbon helps us to provide ongoing support, organise the annual gathering and subsidise the costs of our Warriors attending these conferences. Sponsorship – If you wish to sponsor our charity, please contact us using this form. Volunteering – We are always looking for volunteers to help with different aspects of running our charity. If you are looking for volunteer work, please feel free to contact us.