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What Are the Symptoms of Penile Cancer?

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  • Written By: Jillian O Keeffe
  • Edited By: PJP Schroeder
  • Last Modified Date: 19 September 2016
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Penile cancer is a rare cancer of men in North America and Europe, but it is relatively common in Asia, South America, and Africa. Changes in the skin of the penis or the presence of a lump could be symptoms of penile cancer. A physical examination and a biopsy are necessary to diagnose the cancer.

Signs that a man can use to identify the potential presence of penile cancer are changes in skin appearance and the development of discharge, swelling, or lumps. The skin may begin to thicken or become a different color than before. Lumps or sores may appear, which may or may not be painful. A red rash, unusual-colored growths, or crusted bumps can occur. The foreskin may cover these signs, and under the foreskin, a discharge can develop. This discharge may also smell unpleasant.

In some cases, the tip of the penis swells. Swollen lymph nodes in the groin may also be one of the symptoms of penile cancer. Any of the symptoms of penile cancer can also be caused by other conditions, but as cancers in the early stages are easier to treat. One, or more, of the symptoms may be present. Men with any of these symptoms should visit a doctor.

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A doctor will examine the man visually and take his medical history. Past infection with the herpes virus or human papillomavirus (HPV) increases the risk of penile cancer. If the doctor finds symptoms of penile cancer, he or she will then recommend a biopsy. This is a removal of some cells or an entire lump from the penis. The cells are then examined in a lab to assess whether they show changes indicative of cancer.

There are six types of penile cancer. Epidermoid carcinoma, a cancer of squamous cells of the penis, is by far the most common. This cancer most often grows on the foreskin or on the glans at the end of the penis.

Verrucous carcinoma, a disease originating in similar cells to epidermoid carcinoma, may appear like a wart on the penis. This type usually just affects the penis and not other areas of the body. An adenocarcinoma is very rare, and it grows from skin sweat glands.

Melanoma is also rare and originates in melanocytes, the cells that give skin a tan. This type of cancer can spread very quickly. Basal cell cancer originates in skin cells, grows slowly, and does not tend to spread. Sarcoma is a very rare penile cancer and originates in the connective tissue of the penis.

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