The penis is the male reproductive organ that forms a passage for sperm and urine to exit the body. Penile cancer is cancer of the penis that occurs when cells on the skin or within the penis grow and multiply abnormally. The exact cause for penile cancer is not clear, but is more frequent in men over 60 and develops when exposed to certain risk factors. These include infection with the human papilloma virus, repeated infections due to a tight foreskin, poor personal hygiene, many sexual partners and smoking.
Most penile cancers originate from the cells of the skin, particularly the squamous cells, but may also arise from glandular cells that produce sweat or cells that determine the colour of the skin. These cells can multiply and invade surrounding tissues and blood vessels, which helps in spreading the cancer to other parts of the body.
Penile cancer may present as a change in penis skin colour, a persistent sore or growth, thickened foreskin which is difficult to retract, rash, foul-smelling discharge and bleeding under the foreskin.
When you present to the clinic your doctor will review your symptoms and medical history, and perform a physical examination to study your penile lesion in detail. A biopsy (sample of tissue) may be obtained to further examine the cells under a microscope. Blood tests may also be ordered. Imaging tests are ordered to check if the cancer has spread.
Treatment depends on the type of cells involved, the size of the lesion and the degree of spread. Cancers confined to the penis may be treated locally by surgical excision along with a margin of healthy tissue, laser or topical chemotherapy. More advanced cancers are treated by removal of a part of the penis, such as the foreskin or other areas involved. This is followed by surgery to excise lymph nodes or other tissue involved. Chemotherapy or radiation therapy is used to destroy inaccessible or undetected cancer cells. Reconstructive surgery is performed to restore lost tissue from the penis.
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