Cancer of the penis is a rare cancer that affects around 550 men each year within the UK, in the last 30 years, the number of men diagnosed has increased by 20%, which could be due to the changes in sexual practices.
It’s more commonly diagnosed in men who are over the age of 60, but younger men can get it with 25% of cases in the UK occurring in men younger than 50. Cancer can develop anywhere in the penis or on the penis but the most common places are:
- – Under the foreskin
- – On the glans (head of penis)
Types of penile cancer
In total there are several different types of penile cancer with the most commons one being:
Epidermoid/ Squamous cell penile cancer
This type of cancer affects more than 95% of cases. It more commonly grows on or under the foreskin but can develop anywhere on the penis. When caught early, this type of cancer is easy to treat.
Melanoma of the Penis
The outermost layers of cells in the skin are the epidermis; these contain scattered cells called melanocytes. Melanoma starts in the melanocytes and is the most serious type of skin cancer, when it affects the penis it usually occurs on the surface of the penis.
Carcinoma in situ (CIS)
This is a particular type of squamous cell where it only affects the skin of the penis and hasn’t spread to deeper tissue.
Basal Cell Carcinoma
Cancer of the basal cells account for just 2% of all penile cancers. These cells are found in one of the layers of skin called the lower epidermis. This type of cancer is non-melanoma skin cancer.
This is a very rare type of penile cancer, it develops from the sweat glands (glandular cells) in the skin of the penis, it can be very difficult to tell apart from carcinoma in situ due to the similarities they share.
About 1% of all penile cancers are sarcoma. Sarcoma is a cancer that develops in soft-tissues such as, blood vessels, muscle or fat. To learn more about sarcomas go to our sarcoma section.
- – Weakened immune system: HIV and AIDS put men at higher risk due to having a weaker immune system, having more than one ‘at risk’ factors such as HIV and smoking or HPV can put a man even higher at risk.
- – Smoking: This can contribute to men developing penile cancer, especially if a man falls into one or more ‘at risk’ category.
- – Foreskin: Men who have not been circumcised seem to develop penile cancer more than those who have been circumcised. Removing a foreskin keeps the area clean, certain types of penile cancer such as: Epidermoid/ squamous cell carcinoma almost never occurs in men who do not have a foreskin.
- – Smegma: Smegma is a thick substance that can build up if the area under the foreskin isn’t cleaned; it’s caused by oily secretions from the skin, dead skin cells and bacteria. This substance tends to be smelly and is more common in men with Phimosis.
- – Phimosis: This condition describes a man who has not been circumcised and the foreskin becomes tight and difficult to pull back.
- – HPV- Human Papilloma Virus: HPV is common with over half of men getting the infection at some point in their lives. The body usually clears the infection up on its own, however in some cases it doesn’t go away can lead to a chronic infection, with certain types of HPV this can eventually lead to cancer
- – Age: Older men over the age of 60 are more likely to be diagnosed with this oppose to an under 50.
- – Psoriasis Treatment: A mix of UV light and drugs called psoralens can increase penile cancer. These treatments for psoriasis tend to be used in conjunction with one another.
Signs and symptoms
Having one or more of these symptoms does not necessarily mean you have penile cancer; several non-cancerous conditions can affect the penis with similar symptoms. If you’re concerned see your doctor to discuss the symptoms.
Unexplained lumps in the groin with any symptoms below could be a sign of cancer in the lymph nodes.
- – Irregular swellings at the end of the penis
- – Skin thickening on the penis
- – Small, crust bumps under the foreskin
- – Growth or sore on the penis
- – Changes in the colour of the penis
- – Reddish, velvety rash under the foreskin
- – Discharge with a foul odour
- – An ulcer that might bleed
- – Flat, bluish-brown growth
- – Any lumps on penis
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The National Institute for Health and Care Excellence (NICE) published guidelines in 2015 to help GP’s recognise signs and symptoms quicker and to refer you to the right specialist for testing.
If you doctor suspect’s penile cancers you will be referred to a specialist. Tests will be carried out to determine the condition.