Penile cancer is a rare type of cancer that starts at the tip of the penis and spreads. The MD Anderson Cancer Center says the penis contains several types of tissues and different types of penile cancer may develop in these cells.
Cancer.gov reports most penile cancers are squamous cell carcinomas. Other common types are adenocarcinoma, melanomas, basal cell penile cancer and sarcomas.
What causes penile cancer is unknown at this time, doctors do know risk factors associated with it.
Cancer.gov reports men who weren’t circumcised at birth may have a higher risk of developing penile cancer. MD Anderson says phimosis, a condition in which it's difficult to pull back the foreskin, can lead to the buildup of body oils, bacteria and smegma. The National Institutes of Health (NIH) says smegma, a cheese-like, foul-smelling substance, may increase the risk of penis cancer.
Human Papillomavirus (HPV) is also a penile cancer risk factor, as is poor personal hygiene and many sexual partners. Others include being aged 50-70 (although MD Anderson says nearly a third of cases occur in men under 50) and either chewing or smoking tobacco.
Most often penile cancer is first detected when the skin of the penis changes color. LiveStrong.com says symptoms of penile cancer include a painless sore on the penis, genital lesions and pain or bleeding from the penis. Others are reddish rashes and persistent, smelly discharge under the foreskin.
Certain factors affect treatment options. According to Cancer.gov these are the stage of the cancer, the location and size of the tumor; and whether the cancer has just been diagnosed or is recurrent.
NIH says if the tumor is small and near the tip of the penis, surgery to remove only the cancerous part of the penis is possible. This is called a partial penectomy. For more severe tumors, total removal of the penis (total penectomy) is often necessary. A new opening is created in the groin area to allow urine to exit the body.