The American Cancer Society estimates about 2,300 penile cancers diagnosed in the United States each year. Though not as prevalent as malignancies developing in the prostate, colon, lung, and skin — the most common cancers in men — penile cancer is just as dangerous.
If you have a personal history of penile warts, tested positive for human papillomavirus HPV, are uncircumcised, or have seen an unusual area on your penis, then you need to read this article. According to Dr. James Wysock, a urologist who has seen some severe cases, here are facts about penile cancer every man should know.
1. Penile cancer is rare in the United States
Penile cancer accounts for less than one percent of all cancers in the United States. Globally, however, particularly in countries with inadequate healthcare resources, the occurrence rates of penile cancer can reach as high as 10 to 20 percent.
2. Lack of circumcision is a significant penile cancer risk factor
Cancer of the penis almost never develops in circumcised men. In contrast, the risk among men with an intact foreskin are nearly twice as high. This fact may be attributed to a condition known as phimosis, in which retracting the foreskin becomes difficult.
3. Exposure to HPV increases the risk of having penile cancer
Genital warts, which is often a direct result of exposure to HPV, is a leading source of squamous cell carcinoma of the penis. According to the researchers of a study published in the National Institutes of Health (NIH), close to 50 percent of penile cancer cases are associated with HPV infection.
When a man does not clean the foreskin area of his penis routinely, it can become a danger zone where life-threatening viruses, such as HPV or HIV, sequester. Doctors observed the significant health advantages of circumcision during the early HIV era. In their research, it became apparent that countries that performed circumcision reported much lower rates of penile cancer than those that did not.
4. Penile cancer is more common in older men
Men aged 60 and older have the highest risk of developing penile cancer. Although the mutation that leads to squamous cell carcinoma of the penis can arise in younger men, it is rare.
The increased risk among older men stems from the fact that the chance of having phimosis becomes slightly higher as uncircumcised men age. “Phimosis associated with poor hygiene leads to accumulation of smegma chronic inflammation and increases the risk of developing penile cancer,” revealed the researchers of a 2015 study published in the West Indian Medical Journal. Furthermore, the study noted that phimosis accounts for more than 90 percent of penile cancer cases.
5. A telltale symptom is skin changes on the penis
Penile cancer usually manifests itself through genital warts. However, they can also appear as flat red areas on the head of the penis (glans) or along the foreskin and body. These abnormal areas may be painless and firm to the touch.
In rare cases, penile cancer may appear as a rash or an infected lesion. The irritated-looking skin can look similar to those resulting from sexually transmitted disease, such as herpes. These lesions can be painful, and frequent fevers may accompany them.
If cancer is at an advanced stage, it can cause blockage of the urinary passage, or spread to the groin and lymph nodes.
6. Long-term prognosis is good
In the United States, localized penile cancer — which is cancer that has not metastasized or spread to another organ or area in the body — has a five-year relative survival rate of 82 percent, according to the American Cancer Society.
The survival rates for penile cancer are good, but only if a doctor detects and treats the disease in its early stages. “If you have any ulcer or lesion on the penis that does not heal with the traditional treatment for possible infection, then you should immediately seek referral to a dermatologist or a urologist,” said Dr. Harcharan Gill, professor of urology at Stanford University in California. The rates can drop quickly the longer a man waits to seek medical attention.
7. Conventional treatment can entail partial or complete removal of the penis
The treatment strategy for penile cancer often begins with removing a sample tissue from the penis through a biopsy. The quick procedure helps confirm if a wart, rash, or lesion on the penis is benign malignant.
If cancer is present, the patient may undergo one of two operations:
- Penile sparing surgery (partial penectomy). Surgery to remove part of the penis, if a diagnostician detects cancer early.
- Complete penectomy. Total removal of the penile gland, which may be necessary if the cancer is at an advanced stage.
The goal of partial penectomy is to maintain a penile length that still allows men to urinate while standing up. Otherwise, conventional cancer treatment providers believe it is best to remove the entire penis. Topical chemotherapy — applying anti-cancer medicine on the skin — is also used when attempting to preserve the male sex organ.
On the other hand, a procedure called perineal urethrostomy, in which a surgeon moves the outlet of urine behind a man’s scrotum, usually follows after a complete penectomy. This procedure allows a man to urinate through that point while sitting down. In some cases, creating a neophallus is a possible option. This complex plastic surgery procedure uses muscles from other parts of a man’s body, like his leg or forearm, to create a new penis. “The neophallus created in this manner can be used for standing urination but not for penetrative sex, due to the lack of erectile structures,” said an ongoing study.
When the risk of metastasis is high, treatment may necessitate a groin-lymph node dissection, in which doctors create a groin incision to eliminate the likelihood of penile cancer spreading to other parts of the body. This procedure, however, has serious risks like permanent leg swelling, otherwise known as lymphedema.
Due to the risks and complications, more men are seeking holistic treatments for penile cancer. If you are one of them, here at New Hope Unlimited, our cancer care team may provide the less invasive options you seek. Contact us now to schedule a consultation.