Male Genitourinary Disorders: Carcinoma of the Penis / Penile Cancer
Carcinoma of the Penis / Penile Cancer
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Penile cancer is a rare type of cancer that occurs on the skin of the penis or within the penis.
In the UK, around 550 men are diagnosed with cancer of the penis each year. It most commonly affects men over 60 years of age.
Over the last 30 years, the number of penile cancer cases has increased by more than 20%, possibly due to changes in sexual practices.
A cancerous (malignant) tumour starts from one abnormal cell. The exact reason why a cell becomes cancerous is unclear. It is thought that something damages or alters certain genes in the cell. This makes the cell abnormal and multiply ‘out of control’.
In most cases, the reason why penile cancer develops is not known. However, there are factors which are known to alter the risk of penile cancer developing. These include:
- Age. Penile cancer is more common in men over the age of 50.
- Many cases of penile cancer are associated with an infection with certain types of human papillomavirus (HPV)
- Some skin conditions of the foreskin are can increase the risk of having penile cancer in the future. These include a condition called erythroplasia of Queyrat and balanitis xerotica obliterans. These are both rare conditions.
- Phimosis in adults and poor hygiene around the foreskin can increase the risk of penile cancer. Phimosis describes a condition where the foreskin remains unusually tight and cannot be drawn back from the head of the penis.
However, improvements in diagnosis, staging and treatment have led to a similar reduction in the number of deaths resulting from the condition.
Signs and symptoms
You should be aware of any abnormalities or signs of penile cancer, including:
- a growth or sore on the penis that doesn’t heal within four weeks
- bleeding from the penis or from under the foreskin
- a foul smelling discharge
- thickening of the skin of the penis or foreskin that makes it difficult to draw back the foreskin (phimosis)
- a change in the colour of the skin of the penis or foreskin
- a rash on the penis
If you experience these symptoms, it’s important that they’re checked by your GP as soon as possible. It’s unlikely they’ll be caused by cancer of the penis, but they need to be investigated.
Any delay in diagnosing penile cancer could reduce the chances of successful treatment.