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Penis Disorders

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What Is Penile Cancer?

Penile cancer is a rare form of cancer that occurs when abnormal cells in the penis divide and grow uncontrolled. Certain benign (non-cancerous) tumors may progress and become cancer.

What Causes Penile Cancer?

The exact cause of penile cancer is not known, but there are certain risk factors for the disease. A risk factor is anything that increases a person's chance of getting a disease. The risk factors for cancer of the penis may include the following:

  • Uncircumcision. Men who are not circumcised at birth have a higher risk of getting cancer of the penis.
  • Human papilloma virus (HPV) infection. HPV includes more than 100 types of viruses that can cause warts (papillomas). Certain types of HPV can infect the reproductive organs and the anal area. These types of HPV are passed from one person to another during sexual contact.
  • Smoking. Smoking exposes the body to many cancer-causing chemicals that affect more than the lungs.
  • Smegma. Oily secretions from the skin can accumulate under the foreskin of the penis. The result is a thick, bad-smelling substance called smegma. If the penis is not cleaned thoroughly, the presence of smegma can cause irritation and inflammation.
  • Phimosis. This is a condition in which the foreskin becomes constricted and difficult to retract.
  • Treatment for psoriasis. The skin disease psoriasis is sometimes treated with a combination of medication and exposure to ultraviolet light, which may increase a person's risk for penile cancer.
  • Age. Over half of the cases of penile cancer occur in men over age 68.

What Are the Symptoms of Penile Cancer?

Symptoms of penile cancer include growths or sores on the penis, abnormal discharge from beneath the foreskin, and bleeding.

What Treatments Are Given for Penile Cancer?

Surgery to remove the cancer is the most common treatment for penile cancer. A doctor may take out the cancer using one of the following operations:

  • Wide local excision takes out only the cancer and some normal tissue on either side.
  • Electrodessication and curettage removes the cancer by scraping the tumor with a curette (thin, long instrument with a scraping edge) and applying an electric current to the area to kill cancer cells.
  • Cryosurgery uses liquid nitrogen to freeze and kill the cancer cells.
  • Microsurgery (Moh's surgery) is an operation that removes the cancer and as little normal tissue as possible. During this surgery, the doctor uses a microscope to look at the cancerous area to make sure all the cancer cells are removed.
  • Laser surgery uses a narrow beam of light to remove cancer cells.
  • Circumcision is an operation that removes the foreskin.
  • Amputation of the penis (penectomy) is an operation that removes the penis. It is the most common and most effective treatment of cancer of the penis. In a partial penectomy, part of the penis is removed. In a total penectomy, the whole penis is removed. Lymph nodes in the groin may be taken out during surgery.

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