Penile cancer diagnosis at Henry Ford Cancer Institute
Finding penile cancer early makes a difference in how we treat it and how quickly you can recover. The expert team at Henry Ford uses the latest techniques for an accurate diagnosis.
We use many different tests during our evaluation, including:
- Physical exam: Your specialist looks at your penis and groin to find any signs of cancer. The specialist will check your lymph nodes to see if they’re swollen. If the specialist finds signs of cancer, you’ll need additional testing.
- Imaging: Scans allow us to see inside the penis and surrounding area, to check for possible problems. Some of the imaging tests we use include:
- Biopsy: We collect a small sample of suspicious tissue to examine in the lab. We may use a needle or make a small cut to collect the tissue. Usually, you can go home the same day after having a biopsy.
Types of penile cancer
Most penile cancer starts from abnormal cells that could become cancer. These abnormal cells are called precancerous cells. In penile cancer, they’re found on the foreskin or glans (head) of the penis. If you catch these precancerous cells early, you can prevent or treat most penile cancers.
If these cells become cancerous, they can grow and form a tumor. There are several types of penile cancer:
- Squamous cell carcinoma: This type of penile cancer is also known as epidermoid carcinoma. It’s the most common form of penile cancer, making up roughly 95 percent of cases.
- Basal cell carcinoma: This type of cancer is slow-growing and accounts for roughly 2 percent of penile cancer cases.
- Melanoma: Melanoma can spread quickly, but it’s not common.
- Adenocarcinoma: A rare type of cancer, adenocarcinoma starts in sweat glands.
- Sarcoma: Sarcoma starts from muscle, blood vessels or other penis tissues. It is rare.
Penile cancer staging
If your specialist diagnoses cancer, the team needs to know much the disease has grown and exactly where it’s located. We call this step staging. The stages of penile cancer are:
- Stage 0: Only the top layer of the penis’ skin shows signs of cancer.
- Stage 1: The cancer has grown into the tissue below the top layer of the skin on the penis.
- Stage 2: The cancer continues to spread beyond the skin and tissue of the penis. It may be in the nerves, lymph vessels or blood vessels.
- Stage 3: The cancer affects more of the body. At stage 3, it may have grown into the spongy erectile tissue of the penis. It may also have spread to the lymph nodes in the groin.
- Stage 4: The cancer may have spread to the scrotum, prostate, pubic bone and other structures in the groin. It may be in the lymph nodes, too.
After staging, the cancer team will work with you to develop your personalized treatment plan. Learn more about penile cancer treatment.
Signs and symptoms of penile cancer
Finding penile cancer early makes treating it easier and more effective. It helps to watch for signs and symptoms of penile cancer and to know what penile cancer looks like.
You should note any:
- Bleeding from sores or foreskin
- Changes in skin color
- Constricted foreskin
- Flat growths
- Lumps on the penis and in the groin area
- Red, velvety rash
- Small, crusty bumps
- Smelly discharge from the foreskin
- Swelling at the tip of the penis
- Thickening of the skin
- Any abnormal penile skin growth that medication doesn’t resolve or improve
If you notice any of signs of penile cancer, talk to your doctor. Your doctor will move quickly to get a diagnosis.
Risk factors for penile cancer
Like with many cancers, doctors don’t know exactly what causes penile cancer. But there are certain factors that may increase your risk for the disease.
Circumcised men have a lower risk of penile cancer, for example. And as much as 50 percent of men with penile cancer have human papillomavirus (HPV).
Other risk factors that increase your chances for penile cancer include:
- Age, as the disease occurs more often after 55
- HIV or an otherwise compromised immune system
- Penile lichen sclerosus (skin condition that causes itching and dryness)
- Phimosis (swelling caused by not being able to pull back the foreskin on an uncircumcised penis)
- Poor personal hygiene
- Tobacco use