Penile cancer develops in or on the penis and, as with all cancers, begins when cells begin to grow out of control. Different types of penile cancer can develop from these cells, and the type determines the seriousness of the cancer and the treatment needed.
Penile cancer isn’t common, and the survival rate is high while the cancer is still confined to the penis. The five-year survival rate if found early is around 85%.
Types of Penile Cancer
Squamous Cell Carcinoma
About 95% of penile cancers develop from flat skin cells called squamous cells. Squamous cell carcinoma can develop anywhere on the penis, with most occurring on the foreskin or on the glans (tip of the penis). Squamous cell carcinoma tumors tend to grow slowly and, if found early can usually be cured.
While also a squamous cell cancer, verrucous carcinoma is uncommon. Growths called Buschke-Lowenstein tumors, resembling large genital warts, develop on the skin of the penis. These tumors also grow slowly but can become very large and grow into surrounding tissue. However, they rarely spread to other parts of the body.
Carcinoma in Situ (CIS)
During CIS, the earliest stage of squamous cell cancer of the penis, cancer cells are only found in the top layers of the skin and have not grown into the deeper tissues of the penis.
Melanoma is a type of skin cancer that can occur on any part of the body. Because melanomas tend to develop due to sun exposure, they don’t typically occur in areas that are not regularly exposed to the sun. However, in rare cases, melanoma can develop on the penis.
Basal Cell Carcinoma
Basal cell carcinoma is another type of skin cancer that can develop on the penis. It’s rare, slow-growing, and rarely spreads.
Adenocarcinoma is a very rare type of penile cancer that can develop from sweat glands in the skin of the penis. It’s sometimes misdiagnosed as carcinoma in situ (CIS).
A small number of penile cancers are sarcomas, which develop from blood vessels, smooth muscle, or other connective tissue cells of the penis.
Signs and Symptoms
Having the signs and symptoms of penile cancer doesn’t necessarily mean you have cancer. Many of them can be caused by other conditions. But, whatever the cause, you should consult a doctor if you are experiencing these symptoms, so treatment can begin sooner rather than later.
Skin changes are typically the first sign of penile cancer. Most often, they occur on the glans (tip of the penis) or on the foreskin, but they can also appear on the shaft.
Skin changes suggesting penile cancer include:
- Skin on the penis appearing thicker and/or changing color
- A lump on the penis
- A sore on the penis that might bleed
- A reddish, velvety rash on the penis
- Small, crusty bumps on the penis
- Flat, bluish-brown growths on the penis, resembling bruises
- Smelly discharge under the foreskin
Another sign of possible penile cancer is swelling at the end of the penis.
Lumps Under the Skin
Lumps are not typically found under the skin of the penis. They are most often found in the groin after the cancer has spread to the lymph nodes, causing them to swell. However, swollen lymph nodes can also occur when the skin of the penis is infected, so they don’t always mean the cancer has spread.
Depending upon the type and stage of your penile cancer, your treatment options may include the following:
- Surgery is the main treatment for most penile cancers.
- Local treatments can be used for early-stage tumors.
- Radiation therapy may be used instead of or in addition to surgery.
- Chemotherapy may be ordered for large tumors or if the cancer has spread.
If you suspect you may have penile cancer, or if you’re experiencing any of the signs and symptoms mentioned, the Urology specialists and oncologists at Kelsey-Seybold Clinic in Houston can provide a diagnosis, treatment plan, and support.