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Penile cancer

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What is penile cancer?

Penile cancer is a malignant tumour that starts in cells of the penis. Malignant means that it can spread, or metastasize, to other parts of the body.

The penis is part of a man’s reproductive and urinary systems. It is made up of several types of tissue, including skin, nerves, smooth muscle and blood vessels. Inside the penis is the urethra, which carries urine from the bladder to the outside of the body. The penis is also a male sex organ. Semen is released from the penis during orgasm.

Cells in the penis sometimes change and no longer grow or behave normally. These changes may lead to non-cancerous, or benign, conditions such as genital warts (also called condylomata).

Changes to cells of the penis can also cause precancerous conditions. This means that the cells are not yet cancer but there is a higher chance these abnormal changes will become cancer. The most common precancerous condition of the penis is penile intraepithelial neoplasia (PeIN).

In rare cases, changes to cells of the penis can cause cancer. Most often, penile cancer starts in flat, thin cells called squamous cells. These cells are in the skin of the penis and the head of the penis (called the glans). This type of cancer is called squamous cell carcinoma (SCC) of the penis. SCC can develop anywhere on the penis, but it develops most often on the foreskin (in uncircumcised men) or the glans.

Rare types of penile cancer can also develop. These include adenocarcinoma, melanoma and basal cell carcinoma (BCC).

Diagram of the male reproductive system

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