Penis is the male reproductive organ as also a part of male urinary system. It is made of several types of body tissues, blood vessels, nerves and muscles. Visibly penis is divided into three parts – a thin skinny part called foreskin, the main part called shaft and the head called the Glans. Sometimes abnormal growths can occur in the penis specifically on the foreskin or in the glans which can lead to penile cancer. The earlier penile cancer or cancer of penis is diagnosed, the better it is for treatment as well as the outcome. Hence it is very important to know the early warning signs of penile cancer and if something is noted, early treatment is opted for.
What is Penile Cancer?
Simply speaking, penile cancer is the growth of malignant cells in the tissues of the penis. Tissues in the penis contain several types of cells. Hence, character of malignant cells also differs depending on where it's growing. Understanding these differences is an important part of diagnosis in penile cancer, as seriousness of the cancer depends a lot on the type of malignant cells developed in the tissues. Most of the penile cancers originate in foreskin.
Warning Signs of Penile Cancer
Understanding signs and symptoms are very important part in early diagnosis and treatment of penile cancer. Men with penile cancer experience one or more of the following signs and symptoms:
- Changes in the color of the penis.
- Thickening of skin in the penis.
- Continual discharge with a foul smell under the foreskin can be a warning sign of penile cancer or cancer of the penis.
- Bloody discharge from the tip of the penis or under the foreskin can also be a warning sign of penile cancer.
- Pain in the shaft or at the tip of the penis.
- Growth of bluish-brown lesions often irregular or flat.
- Marks below the foreskin.
- Reddish and velvety irregular rash beneath the foreskin.
- Small and crusty bumps under the foreskin
- Swollen lymph in the groin.
- Visible irregular swelling at the end of the penis can be a sign of penile cancer or cancer of the penis.
Sometimes, patients with penile cancer do not show any of these symptoms. Again, these symptoms may be caused by other medical conditions which are not related to cancer.
What are the Causes and Risk Factor that Warn about Penile Cancer?
The exact cause of penile cancer is still not known to medical fraternity. However, the chances of developing penile cancer seem to increase by certain risk factors as depicted below:
- Human Papilloma Virus: People with multiple sexual partners are more prone to get affected by HPV or Human Papilloma Virus. It forms good quantity of genital warts which are known to increase the chance of penile cancer by manifold.
- Smoking: Some researches are showing that smokers are more at risk of getting penile cancer than non-smokers.
- Having a tight foreskin: Patients with phimosis (problems in free movement of foreskin in penis) are at higher risk of getting penile cancer or cancer of the penis. Phimosis irritates or causes inflammation of the foreskin.
- Skin Diseases: Some other types of skin diseases that happen in and around the penis may develop into cancer if left untreated for a long time. Red moist patches and white or reddish scaly patches on the skin of the penis are a clear symptom of skin diseases on that part.
Early Detection and Diagnosis of Penile Cancer
An early detection and diagnosis is the best way to handle penile cancer or cancer of the penis. Keeping a note of the occurrence of warning signs and risk factors must be done. Early detection is only possible when the person seeks medical help immediately after noticing any of the signs and symptoms of penile cancer or cancer of the penis. Let us have a look at how the early diagnosis of penile cancer is done.
- Early Detection: As penile cancer mostly occurs in foreskin of the penis, early detection of the disease is always possible. Any type of patches, discoloration, swelling and any other abnormalities as stated above needs to be checked by a doctor at the earliest. People often avoid check up in embarrassment, which is not a good practice and only complicates the disease further. Persons with phimosis also need regular check up and treatment for it.
- Other Diagnosis Processes: Medical practitioners undertake multiple tests to diagnose penile cancer and also to find out if it has spread to other parts of the body. Some diagnosis is made to determine future treatments to undertake that are likely to be the most effective ones:
- CT Scan or Computed Tomography Scan: A three-dimensional image of the scanned body part is created through CT scan. Through this process the size of the tumor is also measured. To get the accurate image a special dye is applied before the scan to get more prominent image. A CT scan also helps to find out if the malignant cells have spread to lymphatic nodes in the groin, pelvis, and the abdomen or further to liver, lungs and other body parts.
- MRI or Magnetic Resonance Imaging: In this process magnetic waves are used to detect abnormalities in penis and other allied areas like lymphatic nodes, groin, pelvis and abdomen. It gives more accurate image than CT scan; hence if CT scan is unable to spot the affected areas precisely, doctors take help of MRI.
- Biopsy: It's a process through which a part of tissue is removed from the possible affected part to test for probable cancer cells. The tissue sample is removed by any one of the following processes:
- Fine-needle aspiration (FNA) biopsy: In this process the tissues or fluid is removed using a thin needle.
- Incisional biopsy: In this process a part of a lump or a sample of tissue that look abnormal is removed for medical test.
- Excisional biopsy: In this process the entire lump or area of tissue that looks abnormal is removed for test.
- Inguinal Lymph Node dissection: This diagnosis process is used to detect the spread of cancer in lymphatic nodes near the penis. The nodes are removed and examined for cancer. This is more authentic test for detecting and fixing cancerous spots than removal of single lymph node or group of lymph nodes.
After diagnosis the oncologist or other specialist handling the case makes a description or staging of the penile cancer to understand and describe future treatment process and prognosis.
Prevention of Penile Cancer
Epidemiological data shows that penile cancer is not wide spread in any part of the world, even then it is found in lower percentages in Asia, Europe, Africa and America. Cause of penile cancer is not clear to the researchers till to date, hence its preventive steps are not exactly found out by the medical experts.
Previously, circumcision was known as a way to lower the risk of penile cancer. As the studies showed that penile cancer rates were very low among circumcised men in comparison to uncircumcised men. But some other studies which were more intensive and data based showed circumcision cannot be said as a surer protective action against penile cancer.
Here are some other probable ways to reduce the risk of penile cancer:
- Keeping good genital hygiene is a must for reducing the risk of penile cancer.
- Males should take all care to prevent HPV (Human Papilloma Virus) infections. Males having multiple sexual partners are more prone to penile cancer. Hence they should take all protective measures for safer sexual relations. Nowadays, vaccines are available against HPV which can protect males from getting affected by HPV.
- Smoking also aggravates the risk of penile cancer. Hence, they should avoid smoking to reduce the risk of penile cancer.
Early detection of penile cancer based on the warning signs can prevent many complications in future. Males should possess knowledge regarding hygienic lifestyle and maintain it to the maximum possible extent to prevent penile cancer. Healthy eating habit, protective sex and consulting with doctors in time can keep a person at lower risk zone of this disease. Penile cancer is not so prevalent but delayed detection can even summon death, hence males should not feel ashamed in consulting with doctors.