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When detected early, the condition is treatable. It is extremely rare in North America and Europe, accounting for less than 1% of cancers in men in the United States. While it is unknown as to what officially causes penis cancer, it is believed that uncircumcised men are at greater risk, because bodily fluids (and bacteria) may become trapped under the foreskin of the penis. Penis cancer is also linked to:
It is also unknown how to prevent penis cancer, although circumcision and improved personal hygiene are recommended as preventative measures. It is believed that many cases of penis cancer can be prevented by avoiding these risk factors.
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A change in the skin's appearance or thickness is usually the first sign that a man has penis cancer. While the foreskin and tip of the penis (otherwise known as the glans) are most likely to be affected, visible changes in the skin may also be seen on the penis shaft and testicles. Other signs of penis cancer may be crusty bumps and lumps, a bleeding ulcer, a discharge under the foreskin that also has an odor, and flat growths on the penis that are blue or brown in color. There are five different types of penis cancer: squamous cell carcinoma, melanoma, basal cell carcinoma, adenocarcinoma (Paget disease of the penis), and sarcoma. Roughly 95% of penis cancer patients have a cancer that first began with squamous cells.
When penis cancer is suspected, a doctor will perform a physical exam of both the groin area and lymph nodes. If visible signs of swelling are present in either, the doctor will then also perform a biopsy. Occasionally, imaging tests are also ordered to determine whether or not any other tissues are affected. Treatment for penis cancer will depend upon whether or not the cancer has already spread to other parts of the body, and if it has spread, how far. Doctors refer to this portion of the diagnosis as staging.
There are a number of treatment options for penis cancer, depending on the stage of the cancer. Cryotherapy freezes and, consequently, destroys any malignant tissue. Laser surgery is a minimally-invasive procedure that cuts away any cancerous tissue. With Mohs surgery, a doctor will remove cancerous tissue one layer at a time, until healthy tissue is reached.
Circumcision is also a recommended treatment if the penis cancer is confined to the area near the foreskin. Finally, penis cancer in advanced stages may be treated by a combination of chemotherapy and radiation, the removal of nearby lymph nodes, and either a full or partial removal of the penis itself (known as a penectomy.) Treatments for early-stage penis cancer are said to not generally affect the function of the penis.
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