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Penile cancer

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Treatment of penile cancer

Treatment for penile cancer is given by cancer specialists (oncologists). Some specialize in surgery, some in radiation therapy and others in chemotherapy (drugs). These doctors work with the person with cancer to decide on a treatment plan.

Treatment plans are designed to meet the unique needs of each person with cancer. Treatment decisions for penile cancer are based on the:

  • stage of the cancer
  • location of the cancer (either the glans of the penis or shaft of the penis)

Treatment options for penile cancer

  • surgery
    • Circumcision, Mohs surgery and wide local excision are used for small, early stage penile cancer.
    • Partial or total penectomy may be used for penile cancer that has spread into the deeper tissues of the penis.
    • Lymph nodes may be removed in some men with penile cancer.
      • lymph node dissection
      • sentinel lymph node biopsy
    • Laser surgeryLaser surgeryA surgical technique that uses a laser (an intense beam of light) to make bloodless cuts in tissue. and cryosurgerycryosurgeryA procedure that uses extreme cold (liquid nitrogen or liquid carbon dioxide) to freeze and destroy abnormal tissue. are sometimes used to treat small, early stage penile cancer in men who do not wish to have, or cannot have, conventional surgery.
    • The scrotum may be removed (scrotectomy) if the cancer has spread to the scrotum, but this is extremely rare.
    • A pelvic exenteration may be needed if penile cancer has spread to the pelvis.
  • radiation therapy
    • Radiation therapy may be used in men who wish to preserve the penis.
    • It may be given before surgery to shrink the tumour.
    • It may be given after surgery to destroy cancer cells left behind and to reduce the risk of the cancer recurring.
    • Radiation therapy may be used to relieve symptoms of advanced cancer.
    • External beam radiation and brachytherapy are the 2 main types of radiation therapy used to treat penile cancer.
      • Brachytherapy is used most often for tumours less than 4 cm.
  • chemotherapy
    • Chemotherapy may be used with or without radiation therapy when the cancer cannot be removed by surgery.
    • It may be given before surgery to shrink a tumour.
    • It may be given after surgery to destroy cancer cells left behind and to reduce the risk of the cancer recurring.
    • Chemotherapy may be used to relieve symptoms of advanced cancer.
    • Both topical chemotherapy and systemic chemotherapy are used to treat penile cancer.
      • Topical chemotherapy is used for very early stage penile cancer (carcinoma in situ).
  • biological therapy
    • Biological therapy may be used to treat small, early stage penile cancer.
  • follow-up after treatment is finished
    • It is important to have regular follow-up visits, especially in the first 5 years after treatment.
    • Men who have treatment that preserves the penis should continue to have regular follow-up even 10 years after treatment.

Clinical trials

Clinical trials investigate new and better ways to prevent, detect and treat cancer. There are some clinical trials in Canada that are open to men with penile cancer. For more information, go to clinical trials.

See a list of questions to ask your doctor about treatment.

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