When it comes to the most common treatment for penile cancer the main choice is penis surgery. If the cancer is found when its small and hasn’t spread, the tumour can often be treated without having to remove part of the penis. If the cancer is found at a more advanced stage, part of or all of the penis might have to be removed with the tumour. Your cancer care team will talk with you about the treatment options that give you the best chance of curing cancer while saving as much of your penis as possible.
Men with tumours that have grown deep within the penis usually need to have some nearby lymph nodes in the groin taken out to check for cancer spread. Instead of removing all of the groin lymph nodes to look for cancer, some doctors prefer to do a sentinel lymph nodes biopsy, which is covered later in this section.
Many different kinds of surgery are used to treat penile cancers. Penile sparing techniques are used as often as possible. These include local treatments and limited surgeries, to save as much of the penis as possible, preserve sexual function and the way the penis looks, and the ability to urinate while standing up.
If the cancer is only on the foreskin, circumcision can often cure the cancer. This operation removes the foreskin and some nearby skin. Circumcision is also done before radiation therapy to the penis. Radiation can cause swelling and tightening of the foreskin, which can lead to other problems.
In simple excision surgery, the tumour is cut out, along with some nearby normal skin. If the tumour is small, the remaining skin can then be stitched back together. This is the same as an excisional biopsy.
In a wide local excision, the tumour is removed along with a large amount of normal tissue around it. Removing this healthy tissue makes it less likely that any cancer cells are left behind. If there’s not enough skin left to cover the area, a skin graft may be taken from another part of the body and used over the area.
Men with cancer that has grown deep within the penis usually need to have some nearby lymph nodes in the groin removed so they can be checked for cancer spread.
If cancer is found in 2 or more inguinal lymph nodes, pelvic lymph nodes will also be removed and checked. This may be done at the same time the groin nodes are removed, or later as a separate surgery. This surgery is done through an incision in the lower belly. The risk of lymphedema goes up if these nodes are also removed.
If you’re suffering from symptoms of penile cancer then contact your GP as soon as possible so you have the best chance of treating it.