Penile cancer or cancer of the penis in adult males is a common problem in African, Asian and the South American countries. However, it is relatively rare in the United States and Europe.
The penis is the male reproductive organ through which sperms and urine pass out of the body. It contains erectile tissue, which brings about erection, and a central urethra. The tip is known as the head or the glans. It is covered with loose skin called the foreskin, which is absent in circumcised males.
Penile Cancer Risk Factors
Some of the major risk factors for penile cancer include the following:
• The presence of intact foreskin is found to be a major risk factor for developing penile cancer. Thus, circumcised males have a lower risk of penile cancer.
• Men with a history of phimosis are also at a high risk for developing cancer of the penis. Phimosis is a condition in which the foreskin of the penis cannot be pulled back over the glans. This leads to accumulation of cells and urinary products (called smegma) below the skin. This could result in chronic irritation, thus contributing to the development of cancer.
• Human Papillomavirus (HPV) infection is another significant factor contributing to the development of penile cancer. HPV type 16 and 18 were found to be strongly associated with this form of cancer. The HPV virus is also associated with cervical cancer in females. Circumcision in males could reduce the chances of this viral infection.
Other risk factors include:
• Age between 50 and 70 years
• Smoking or the use of tobacco products
• Balanitis or inflammation of the glans penis
• Injury to the penis
• Having many sexual partners
• History of genital warts or sexually transmitted diseases
• Poor personal hygiene.
The cancer usually presents as a swelling or a sore on the penis. It is often associated with pain, discharge, bleeding or foul odor.
The cancer can spread in three different ways in the body. It can spread by invading the normal tissues, by invading the lymph system or via blood.
Penile cancer is diagnosed with the help of a biopsy of the affected part. Radiological tests are used to check for spread. Like other cancers, surgery, chemotherapy and radiotherapy are used in the treatment of penile cancer as well.