If penis cancer is suspected during a visual exam, patients are often referred to a urologist for diagnosis and treatment recommendations.
Initially developing in skin cells, penis cancer is a rare form of cancer that generally responds well to treatment when detected early. There’s no specific cause associated with penis or penile cancer.
However, it may occur with greater frequency in uncircumcised males because of trapped body fluids.
The most common sign of penis cancer is a change in the appearance of skin on the glans, or tip of the penis, and foreskin in circularized men. Some men may experience pain that extends to the shaft of the penis and the testicles. Growths or cell abnormalities originating in the scrotum or testicles, however, are referred to as testicular cancer. With penis cancer, men may also notice:
Lumps or changes in skin thickness
Rashes or unhealed scabs
Odorous discharge under foreskin
Swelling around the tip of the penis
Changes in skin coloration
Diagnosing Penile Cancer
Following a physical exam, diagnosis of penis cancer typically involves a biopsy to test tissue from the affected area. Image tests are typically done to determine if the cancer has spread to other parts of the groin and urinary system, or if it’s relegated to the affected area of the penis.
If penis cancer is localized and in an early stage, treatment may involve topical medication that’s applied to the affected area. With cryotherapy (cryoablation), extreme cold is used to destroy cancer cells. During the procedure, a needle is inserted into the skin of the penis and gas is passed through to freeze the tissue. The treated area is allowed to thaw before more gas is administered. The freeze-thaw process is repeated several times.
Some patients may benefit from what’s known as Mohs surgery, or Mohs micrographic surgery. During this type of treatment, layers of skin affected by penis cancer are removed one layer at time. This process continues until healthy tissue is reached. Cancerous tissues are sometimes removed with laser surgery. Treatment may also involve:
Full or partial removal of nearby inguinal lymph nodes
Chemotherapy if surgery isn’t advisable or as a follow-up to surgery
A combination of chemotherapy and radiation therapy
Partial or complete removal of the penis (penectomy)
While males of any age may develop penis cancer, it’s more likely to affect men over the age of 60 and those who smoke, have a family history of this type of cancer, or have a weakened immune system. Even though it’s not entirely preventable, penis cancer is often detected in early stages, which increases the odds of seeing positive results with treatment. In some instances, skin irritation in the penis or testicles is due to an infection or allergic reaction and not cancer. Even so, it’s best to err on the side of caution and discuss any unusual discomfort or changes in skin appearance in this area with a urologist.