Treatments for penile cancer
If you have penile cancer, your healthcare team will create a treatment plan just for you. It will be based on your health and specific information about the cancer. When deciding which treatments to offer for penile cancer, your healthcare team will consider:
- the type of cancer
- the stage of the cancer
- the location of the cancer on the penis
- your overall health
- what you prefer or want
You may be offered one or more of the following treatments for penile cancer.
Surgery is the main treatment for penile cancer. Depending on the stage and size of the tumour, you may have one of the following types of surgery.
Circumcision removes the foreskin of the penis. This may be all that is needed for a very small tumour located only on the foreskin.
Mohs surgery removes the cancer in layers, little by little, until no cancer remains. It may be used to treat small, early stage penile cancers.
Laser surgery uses an intense, narrow beam of light (called a laser beam) to destroy cancer cells. It may be used to treat small, early stage penile cancer (carcinoma in situ) or precancerous conditions of the penis.
Cryosurgery uses extreme cold to freeze and destroy tissue. It may be used to treat early stage penile cancers (carcinoma in situ and verrucous carcinoma).
Wide local excision removes the tumour along with a margin of normal tissue around it. It is used for small, early stage penile cancer.
Glansectomy removes the head (glans) of the penis. It may be used for penile cancer that is only in the head of the penis.
Partial or total penectomy removes part or all of the penis. It may be used for penile cancer that has spread into the deeper tissues of the penis.
Lymph node dissection may be done to remove cancer that has spread to the lymph nodes.
Radiation therapy uses radiation to destroy cancer cells. It may be used in men who wish to keep the penis. It may be given:
- before surgery to shrink the tumour
- after surgery to destroy cancer cells left behind and to reduce the risk of the cancer coming back (recurring)
- to relieve symptoms of advanced cancer
External beam radiation and brachytherapy are the 2 main types of radiation therapy used to treat penile cancer. During external beam radiation therapy, a machine directs radiation through the skin to the tumour and some of the tissue around it. In brachytherapy (internal radiation therapy), radiation is placed right into the tumour or very close to it.
Drug therapy is sometimes used to treat penile cancer. Drugs can be given in different ways.
Topical therapy uses a cream or gel to put drugs directly on the penis. It may be used to treat early stage penile cancers or precancerous conditions of the penis. Chemotherapy or immunotherapy drugs may be used for topical therapy. Immunotherapy is a type of biological therapy that uses natural or artificial substances that change the way cells behave.
Systemic chemotherapy uses anticancer (cytotoxic) drugs to destroy cancer cells throughout the body. It is often given through a needle into a vein (intravenous, or IV). It is usually used for advanced penile cancer. It may be used:
- with or without radiation therapy when the cancer cannot be removed by surgery
- before surgery to shrink a tumour
- after surgery to destroy cancer cells left behind and to reduce the risk of the cancer coming back
- to relieve symptoms of advanced penile cancer
If you can’t have or don’t want cancer treatment
You may want to consider a type of care to make you feel better without treating the cancer itself. This may be because the cancer treatments don’t work anymore, they’re not likely to improve your condition or they may cause side effects that are hard to cope with. There may also be other reasons why you can’t have or don’t want cancer treatment.
Talk to your healthcare team. They can help you choose care and treatment for advanced cancer.
Follow-up after treatment is an important part of cancer care. You will need to have regular follow-up visits, especially in the first 5 years after treatment has finished. Some men may continue to have regular follow-up even 10 years after treatment.
These visits allow your healthcare team to follow your progress and recovery from treatment.
Some clinical trials in Canada are open to men with penile cancer. Clinical trials look at new ways to prevent, find and treat cancer. Find out more about clinical trials.
Questions to ask about treatment
To make the decisions that are right for you, ask your healthcare team questions about treatment.
Thanks to the incredible progress in retinoblastoma research made possible by Canadian Cancer Society funding, my son won’t have to go through what I did.
Great progress has been made
Some cancers, such as thyroid and testicular, have survival rates of over 90%. Other cancers, such as pancreatic, brain and esophageal, continue to have very low survival rates.