Penile Cancer Symptoms

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Penile cancer refers to the development of malignant cells in the tissues of the penis, which may lead to the formation of tumors. Symptoms of penile cancer can include changes in the skin of the penis, such as lumps, ulcers, or sores that do not heal, as well as abnormal discharge, bleeding, or persistent itching in the genital area. Early identification of penile cancer symptoms is crucial for several reasons. Firstly, it allows for prompt medical evaluation and diagnosis, which can lead to earlier initiation of treatment and potentially better outcomes. Secondly, early detection may enable less invasive treatment options, such as localized surgery, which can preserve more of the penis and improve quality of life. Lastly, identifying penile cancer symptoms promptly can alleviate anxiety and uncertainty for individuals, enabling them to seek appropriate medical care and support. Therefore, awareness of the signs and symptoms of penile cancer is essential for early detection and effective management of this condition.

Symptoms

Not all cancers cause changes you can see, but penile cancer usually causes your penis to look different. The skin on your penis may become discolored, and you may notice a lump.

Signs and symptoms of penile cancer include:

  • A painless lump or sore (that may bleed).
  • Swelling and irritation, especially in the head of your penis (balanitis).
  • Skin thickening or changing skin color.
  • Flat growths that look blueish-brown.
  • Foul-smelling fluid underneath your foreskin.
  • Small, crusty bumps.
  • Rash.

Less serious conditions like infections and allergic reactions also cause these symptoms. Still, don’t leave things to chance. It’s better to have your healthcare provider take a look so early-stage cancer doesn’t go untreated.

Causes

With penile cancer, a healthy cell in your skin changes to become a cancer cell. Cancer cells multiply out of control, forming a mass called a tumor. These cells can crowd out healthy cells. Over time, cancer cells can spread to other parts of your body, damaging healthy tissue and organs.

Researchers don’t know what causes the change that transforms a healthy cell into a cancer cell, but they’ve discovered several risk factors. A risk factor doesn’t cause penile cancer, but it increases the possibility.

What are the risk factors for penile cancer?

The most significant risk factor for penile cancer is age. About 80% of penile cancer diagnoses in the U.S. occur in people 55 or older. Not being circumcised when you were an infant may also increase your risk. Circumcision removes the foreskin of your penis, exposing the head. Many risk factors related to penile cancer are likely related to having a foreskin.

Phimosis

Phimosis is common in uncircumcised infants but rare in uncircumcised adults. It’s a condition that causes your foreskin to become so tight that you can’t retract it (pull it back) to access the head of your penis. It’s possible that phimosis lasting into your adulthood increases the risk of infection and inflammation beneath your foreskin. Both may increase your cancer risk.

HPV

Many of the same high-risk strains of the human papillomavirus (HPV) that cause cervical cancer have been found in people with penile cancer. The HPV associated with cervical and penile cancer is a sexually transmitted virus (STI). Although HPV is present in nearly all instances of cervical cancer, it’s present about half the time in people with penile cancer. Still, HPV infection is a significant risk factor for penile cancer.

HIV

Penile cancer is more common in people with HIV (human immunodeficiency virus). Researchers aren’t sure why. It’s possible that the same sexual behaviors that increase a person’s risk of HPV (for example, unprotected sex, multiple partners, etc.) also increase the risk of HIV infection. It’s possible, too, that HIV infection alone increases cancer risk. Research is ongoing.

Tobacco use

Smoking cigarettes, chewing tobacco or using snuff increases your penile cancer risk. Tobacco may slow your body’s ability to fight infection, raising your risk. Tobacco use may damage cells, causing changes that lead to cancer.

PUVA treatment

PUVA stands for psoralen and ultraviolet A photochemotherapy. It’s a type of treatment for psoriasis that uses radiation. Receiving this treatment can increase your risk of penile cancer. More radiation exposure means greater risk.

Lichen sclerosus

Lichen sclerosis (LS) is an inflammatory disorder that may cause the head of your penis or your foreskin to feel painful, irritated or itchy. If you have LS, you’re at an increased risk of penile cancer. Lichen sclerosus may also increase your risk of HPV infection.

Poor hygiene

Not washing your penis frequently or thoroughly may increase your risk of smegma. Smegma is a build-up of fluids your body secretes naturally. If you’re uncircumcised, smegma can collect beneath your foreskin and become thick and smelly. Researchers once thought that smegma had cancer-causing properties, but this isn’t the case. It’s more likely that smegma leads to irritation and inflammation that may increase cancer risk.

Is penile cancer contagious?

Penile cancer isn’t contagious. However, HPV — one of the risk factors for penile cancer — is transmitted through skin-to-skin contact (most often) during unprotected sex. HPV spreads through vaginal sex, oral sex and anal sex.

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