Symptoms of penile cancer
Symptoms of penile cancer include:
- a growth or sore on the penis that doesn’t heal within 2-4 weeks of treatment
- bleeding from the penis or from under the foreskin
- a foul-smelling discharge from the penis
- thickening of the skin of the penis or foreskin that makes it difficult to draw back the foreskin (phimosis). Sometimes the cancer may hide underneath the narrow foreskin that is difficult to be retracted
- a change in the color of the skin of the penis or foreskin (a premalignant condition known as BXO / Balanitis Xerotica Obliterans)
- a rash on the penis which is persistent in spite of treatment
- Lumps under the skin of your groin
Penile cancers should preferably be diagnosed in the very early stages as it is a very aggressive cancer which can spread fast and result in deforming complications. Any delay in diagnosing penile cancer could reduce the chances of successful treatment.
Causes of penile cancer
The cause of penile cancer is due to cells growing uncontrolled, and in an unorderly fashion. Certain risk factors can increase your chances of getting it, including:
- Human papilloma virus (HPV)– there are more than 100 types of HPV; there are very specific types which can cause penile cancer. The main types of HPV found in men with penile cancer are HPV 16 and 18. There may be other types too.
HPV is a common infection that gets passed from one person to another by sexual contact.
In general, around 8 out of 10 people (80%) get infected with the HPV virus at some time during their lifetime. For most people the virus causes no harm and goes away without treatment. But men with human papilloma virus have an increased risk of developing cancer of the penis.
About 6 out of 10 (60%) penile cancer cases are caused by HPV infection. Some types of HPV cause genital warts.
- Age – the condition rarely affects men under the age of 40 and is most common in men aged over 50
- Smoking – chemicals found in cigarettes can damage cells in the penis, which increases your risk of getting penile cancer
- Phimosis – when the foreskin is difficult to retract, the chances of developing infections like increases; repeated infections are linked to a higher risk of developing some types of penile cancer as they cause repetitive irritation and resulting with the cells dividing and growing uncontrollably as a result of repetitive stimulation.
- Uncircumcised – Uncircumcised men may sometimes find it difficult to draw back their foreskin. This is called phimosis. Men with phimosis have a higher risk of penile cancer than other men.
The age of circumcision can affect the risk of penile cancer:
- Men who are circumcised as babies appear to be less likely to get penile cancer.
- Men who are circumcised in their teens seem to have some protection from penile cancer.
- Circumcision in adulthood seems to make no difference to a man’s risk of penile cancer.
Circumcision is not necessary as a sole method of prevention of penile cancer because it is a very rare cancer. Not being circumcised is only one risk factor for this type of cancer. Other risk factors such as smoking and HPV infection are more important.
If there are any clarifications, you can always speak to your doctor regarding this issue.
Prevention of penile cancer
For prevention, you can reduce the risks associated with the cancer by:
Maintain good penis hygiene to prevent the bacterial and viral infections that can increase the risk of penile cancer.
Use condom to reduce the risk of HPV infection
Regularly wash your penis with warm water, including under the foreskin
Evidence does not suggest that being circumcised as an adult will reduce your chances of developing penile cancer, but childhood circumcision may. But the incidence of penile cancer itself is rare. Hence a discussion on this is best done with a urologist.