Penile cancer

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Chemotherapy for penile cancer

Chemotherapy is sometimes used to treat penile cancer. The role of chemotherapy in treating penile cancer is still evolving.

Chemotherapy is the use of anti-cancer (cytotoxic) drugs to treat cancer. It can be a topical therapy applied to the skin of the penis. It can also be a systemic therapy that circulates throughout the body and destroys cancer cells, including those that may have broken away from the primary tumour.

Chemotherapy may be used:

  • as the primary treatment
    • Topical chemotherapy may be used to treat:
    • Systemic chemotherapy may be used, with or without radiation therapy, to destroy cancer cells when the cancer cannot be removed by surgery.
      • Chemotherapy is rarely used for this purpose.
  • before surgery to shrink a tumour (neoadjuvant chemotherapy)
  • after surgery to destroy cancer cells left behind and to reduce the risk of the cancer recurring (adjuvant chemotherapy)
    • Chemotherapy may sometimes be combined with radiation therapy (adjuvant chemoradiation).
  • to relieve pain or to control the symptoms of advanced penile cancer (palliative chemotherapy)

Drugs, doses and schedules vary from person to person.

Chemotherapy drugs

Chemotherapy for penile cancer may be given as a topical or systemic treatment.

Topical chemotherapy

The most common topical chemotherapy drug used to treat precancerous conditions or cancer on the surface of the penis (superficial) is 5-fluorouracil (Adrucil, 5-FU). It is usually applied twice a day for several weeks.

  • A cream is applied directly to the abnormal area.
  • Topical chemotherapy can only treat cancer cells on or near the surface of the skin. It cannot reach cancer cells that have spread into the deeper layers of penile tissue.
  • It is most often used for precancerous areas or carcinoma in situ.

Systemic chemotherapy

Systemic chemotherapy drugs are given in 3-4 week cycles. Each cycle is followed by a rest period so the body can recover. The most common systemic chemotherapy drugs used to treat penile cancer are:

  • cisplatin (Platinol AQ)
  • bleomycin (Blenoxane)
    • This drug may be combined with radiation therapy.
  • methotrexate
  • 5-fluorouracil
  • gemcitabine (Gemzar)
  • ifosfamide (Ifex)
  • paclitaxel (Taxol)
  • docetaxel (Taxotere)

Combinations of chemotherapy drugs may be more effective than drugs used alone, but there are often more side effects when more than one drug is used. The most common chemotherapy combinations used to treat penile cancer are:

  • BMP regimen
    • bleomycin
    • methotrexate
    • cisplatin
  • TIP regimen
    • paclitaxel
    • ifosfamide
    • cisplatin
  • vincristine (Oncovin) and methotrexate
    • This combination may also be given with bleomycin.

For more detailed information on specific drugs, go to sources of drug information.

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

systemic therapy

Treatment that travels through the bloodstream to reach cells all over the body.

Systemic therapy may be given by injection into a vein or muscle, or by mouth.

Also called systemic treatment.

carcinoma in situ

A very early stage of cancer in which abnormal cells have not yet invaded surrounding tissues.

neoadjuvant therapy

Treatment given to shrink a tumour before the first-line therapy (the first or standard treatment), which is usually surgery.

Neoadjuvant therapy may be given if a tumour is too large to be removed by surgery. It may include chemotherapy, radiation therapy or hormone therapy.

adjuvant therapy

Treatment given in addition to the first-line therapy (the first or standard treatment) to help reduce the risk of a disease (such as cancer) coming back (recurring).

Adjuvant therapy is often given when doctors do not know for sure if any cancer cells remain in the body after the first-line therapy.


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