Penile Cancer

About the Condition

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. *

There are different types of penile cancer, depending on the type of cell the cancer developed from. The most common include:

  • squamous cell penile cancer – which accounts for more than 90% of cases and starts in the cells that cover the surface of the penis
  • carcinoma in situ (CIS) – a particular type of squamous cell cancer where only the cells in the skin of the penis are affected and it hasn’t spread any deeper
  • adenocarcinoma – cancer that starts in the glandular cells of the penis that produce sweat
  • melanoma of the penis – where the cancer develops in the skin cells that give the skin its colour


The cause of penile cancer isn’t known, but certain risk factors can increase the chances of getting it:

  • Smoking – chemicals found in cigarettes can damage cells in the penis
  • Age – cancer of the penis rarely affects men under 40 years of age, and most commonly occurs in men aged over 60
  • Men who carry the human papilloma virus (HPV) have an increased risk of developing penile cancer
  • Conditions that affect the penis, such as phimosis, which makes the foreskin difficult to retract, increase the chances of developing infections such as balanitis
  • Repeated bacterial and viral infections are linked to a higher risk of developing some types of penile cancer, because they can weaken the immune system

There is little evidence to suggest that being circumcised as an adult will reduce your chances of developing penile cancer. However, if you have sores that don’t heal, or if it’s becoming increasingly difficult to clean under your foreskin you should seek advice about the possibility of circumcision.



The signs of penile cancer include:

  • 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


Some men find it embarrassing to talk about these sorts of symptoms, but if any of the above apply to you, or if you have any concerns about similar symptoms, it is essential that you see your doctor at once, as your chances of recovery are much higher if your cancer is diagnosed early.



If your GP suspects penile cancer, they may refer you to an Urologist, who will ask about your symptoms and check for any physical signs of penile cancer. Blood tests may be carried out to check your general health and the number of blood cells. You may need to have a biopsy. A small tissue sample will be removed so it can be examined under a microscope for cancerous cells.



Treatment for penile cancer will depend on the size of the affected area and the rate at which the cancer has spread. In most cases of carcinoma in situ (CIS), where only the skin cells of the penis are affected, treatment will usually involve either using a chemotherapy cream or having laser surgery to remove the affected area of skin. You will usually have a skin graft after surgery.

The main treatments for more developed penile cancer are:

  • Radiotherapy, which is where high-energy rays are used to destroy the cancer cells
  • Chemotherapy, which involves the use of chemical agents which are toxic to cancer cells, destroying them and preventing them from spreading to different areas. This can be given by injection or in tablet form
  • Surgery, which will involve removing the cancerous cells and possibly some of the surrounding tissue


In most cases, any physical changes to your penis after an operation can be corrected with reconstructive surgery. Skin and muscle can be taken from elsewhere in the body to recreate a functioning penis. With early diagnosis and modern surgical techniques, surgeons can usually preserve as much penile tissue as possible.

As part of most treatments for penile cancer, the lymph glands in the groin will be assessed, using a sentinel node biopsy to determine if the cancer has spread.


Support Services

Cancer doesn’t just leave a physical impact on an individual, but that it can have a huge emotional effect as well. Cancer and its treatment can be overwhelming, causing a wide variety of emotions, and it is important to remember that there is no right or wrong response. Reactions vary hugely from person to person, and most people find that it becomes easier to cope when they’re given additional support, so that’s what we do.

At CCL we provide support both physically and emotionally before, during and after treatment. We offer a wide range of services for patients, as well as their loved ones, designed to make a very difficult time as easy as possible, and to give our patients the best treatment and support possible.

Treatment for penile cancer involves several major – and intimately personal – stresses and challenges, so at CCL we offer a comprehensive rehabilitation plan, including appropriate emotional and psychological support.


Penile Cancer Consultants


Cancer Centre London

Parkside Hospital