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Penile cancer

This page was reviewed under our medical and editorial policy by

Maurie Markman, MD, President, Medicine & Science at CTCA.

This page was updated on August 19, 2022.

Penile cancer is a type of cancer that begins in or on the penis, which is part of the male reproductive system. Penile cancer is rare, with about 2,070 new cases expected to be diagnosed in 2022, according to the American Cancer Society (ACS). The disease is diagnosed in fewer than 1 man in 100,000 each year, and accounts for fewer than 1 percent of cancers in men in the United States. Penile cancer is much more common in certain parts of Asia, Africa and South America.

No penile cancer patient is the same. Get personalized treatment.

At Cancer Treatment Centers of America® (CTCA), our oncologists are trained and experienced in diagnosing and treating all stages of penile cancer. Our multidisciplinary teams of cancer experts evaluate the disease to determine its type and stage. We use that information to tailor a cancer care treatment plan based on your specific needs and diagnosis, including supportive care therapies to manage potential side effects of the disease and treatment.

This overview will cover the basic facts about penile cancer, including:

If you believe you may be experiencing symptoms of penile cancer and want to schedule an appointment for diagnostic testing, or if you’re interested in a second opinion on your penile cancer diagnosis and treatment plan, call us or chat online with a member of our team.

What causes penile cancer?

Penile cancer types

There are several types of penile cancer, some more rare than others. Doctors will identify the type to determine the severity of the cancer and the appropriate treatment options.

Squamous cell carcinoma: Almost all penile cancers (about 95 percent) begin in flat skin cells (squamous cells), according to the ACS. Squamous cell carcinoma (or squamous cell cancer) may develop anywhere on the penis but tends to start on the foreskin or glans (head). This generally slow-growing cancer may be treatable if found at an early stage.

  • Verrucous carcinoma: Also called a Buschke-Lowenstein tumor, a verrucous carcinoma on the penis is an uncommon form of squamous cell cancer. It may resemble a large genital wart and is usually slow growing, but it has the capacity to grow to a large size over time.
  • Carcinoma in situ (CIS): This squamous cell cancer of the penis typically hasn’t reached deeper skin tissue and remains in the top layers of skin.

Basal cell carcinoma: This rare type of penile cancer is slow growing and doesn’t often spread to other parts of the body.

Melanoma: A small number of penile cancers are melanomas. A type of skin cancer, melanoma begins in skin cells called melanocytes. This cancer may grow and spread quickly and be more high-risk than basal and squamous skin cancers.

Adenocarcinoma (Paget disease of the penis): A very rare type of penile cancer, this disease begins with the sweat glands in the skin of the penis. It closely resembles carcinoma in situ of the penis.

Sarcoma: This type of cancer, also rare, starts in the blood vessels, smooth muscle or connective tissue cells within the penis.

With so many types of penile cancers, it may be confusing to understand their differences. It’s always best to consult a doctor and ask plenty of questions.

Penile cancer symptoms

Diagnosing penile cancer

In diagnosing penile cancer, doctors may ask questions about the patient’s age, overall health, symptoms and medical history. They may also perform a physical examination and, later, a diagnostic test. These may include a biopsy, X-ray, magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) or computed tomography (CT) scan. If the doctor thinks there’s a chance the cancer has spread to nearby lymph nodes, an inguinal (groin) lymph node dissection may also be ordered.

Penile cancer treatment options

CTCA approach to helping you maintain your quality of life

Supportive care

Supportive care therapies that may be recommended to help patients with penile cancer stay strong and maintain their quality of life include:

​Nutritional support

Every patient has the option of meeting with a registered dietitian.

Behavioral health

​Our behavioral health support program is designed to support you and your caregivers before, during and after cancer treatment.

​Oncology rehabilitation

​Oncology rehabilitation includes a wide range of therapies designed to help you build strength and endurance.

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