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 penile 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. Penile cancer is also linked to:
It is also unknown how to prevent penile cancer, although circumcision and improved personal hygiene are recommended as preventative measures. It is believed that many cases of penile 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 penile 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 penile 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 penile cancer: squamous cell carcinoma, melanoma, basal cell carcinoma, adenocarcinoma (Paget disease of the penis), and sarcoma. Roughly 95% of penile cancer patients have a cancer that first began with squamous cells.
When penile 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 penile 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 penile 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 penile cancer is confined to the area near the foreskin. Finally, penile 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 penile cancer are said to not generally affect the function of the penis.
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