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Cancer of the penis

AGE  More common over the age of 40GENDER  
LIFESTYLE  Smoking and not being circumcised are risk factorsGENETICS  Not a significant factor

A rare, cancerous tumour that usually occurs on the head of the penis, almost exclusively occuring in uncircumcised men, particularly those in whom the foreskin does not retract (see Phimosis).

Cancer of the penis
© Jupiter

Cancer of the penis is more common in men over the age of 40. Infection with the human papillomavirus, which causes genital warts, is thought to increase the risk of developing the cancer. Smoking also seems to be a risk factor.

The tumour commonly develops on the head of the penis (the glans). It appears as a wart-like growth or flat, painless sore that may be hidden by the foreskin. Sometimes, the growth may bleed or produce an unpleasant-smelling discharge. The cancer usually grows slowly, but, if left untreated, it may spread to the lymph nodes in the groin.

A sore area on the penis should be examined by a doctor immediately.

What might be done?

Your doctor will carry out a physical examination and may take a swab to check for infections that can produce similar symptoms. He or she may also arrange for a biopsy (see Skin biopsy), in which a sample of the growth is removed to be examined under the microscope for evidence of cancer.

If it is detected early, a tumour on the penis can often be treated successfully with surgery, radiotherapy, or a combination of both. Surgery involves either partial or complete amputation of the penis. In some cases, penile reconstruction may be possible following amputation. Radiotherapy may be recommended as the first choice treatment because it offers the chance of curing the cancer without loss of the penis.

The outlook depends on how far the disease has advanced before diagnosis and treatment. More than 8 in 10 men who have received treatment for penile tumours survive for 5 years or more.

Posted 30.06.2010

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