Penile cancer is very rare in the U.S, affecting about 1,600 men a year.
Almost all penile cancers start in the skin, appearing as a tiny area of skin erosion, irritation, discoloration, an ulcer or a sore on the penis foreskin, the shaft or the surface of the head of the penis.
See a doctor if you find a new growth or other abnormality of your penis, even if it is not painful. In most cases, these areas are not cancerous and are caused by a bacterial or fungal infection or even an allergic reaction that can be easily treated.
If the skin changes are cancerous, early detection offers the best chance for treatment. Your urologist will probably begin by treating the area of concern with an antibacterial or antifungal ointment. If the growths or areas do not heal or recur, your urologist may remove a tiny sample of the tissue to study it for signs of cancer.
If cancer is confirmed and the tumor is small, it may be treatable with a topical cream that has minimal side effects. If the lesion is larger, but still limited to about pea-size, your doctor may shave layers of abnormal tissue until normal tissue is reached. Long-term side effects from these types of treatments are rare, although regular monitoring for recurrence is important.
With larger lesions, it is necessary to remove greater amounts of tissue. In these circumstances, a combination of surgery, radiation and chemotherapy may be necessary.
What are the signs of penile cancer?
In most cases, the first sign of penile cancer is a change in the skin of the penis. The skin may change color, become thicker, or tissue may build up in one area. Some men might notice a sore or a lump on the penis. These are most likely to be found on the the head of the penis or foreskin, but could also develop on the shaft. The sore or lump is usually not painful.