Penile cancer

Penile cancer (cancer of the penis) usually takes the form of a skin tumour and occurs most frequently on the foreskin or the glans of the penis, but less often on the shaft. The most important treatment measure is surgical removal of the tumour. If penile cancer is operated on in good time, the penis can usually be retained after the surgery.

Penile cancer is a rare cancer which predominantly affects older men. Around 50 men are diagnosed with penile cancer in Switzerland every year. Around 50% of them are more than 70 years old at the time of diagnosis. Penile cancer develops slowly and only forms metastases (offshoots) later.

Chronic inflammation on the penis, narrowing of the foreskin, poor hygiene and infection with the human papillomavirus (HPV) are deemed to be risk factors for the occurrence of penile cancer. Circumcision of the foreskin is deemed to be protection against penile cancer. Men who are circumcised almost never fall ill with this disease.

As penile cancer only grows very slowly, it causes few or even no symptoms at all for a long time. Cauliflower-type changes to the glans, bleeding or discharge can be initial signs of penile cancer. Changes on the penis should always be checked by a doctor. The earlier that penile cancer is detected, the better the recovery rates are.

Tissue samples of suspicious changes will be taken and examined in the laboratory to diagnose penile cancer. Further examinations such as an ultrasound or computed tomography will be used to determine how far the penile cancer has already spread.

The treatment depends on the stage of the disease. The most important step in the treatment is the surgical removal of the tumour. Very small and surface tumours can be removed with a laser. Large tumours must be surgically removed. Depending on the type of tumour, part or complete amputation of the penis may be necessary. Every effort will be made to retain the penis if surgery takes place. Depending on the stage of the disease, the surgery will be followed by chemotherapy or radiotherapy.