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Just about every man's worst nightmare.
Penile cancer is very rare — there's just one case for every 100,000 men each year in the UK — but uncircumcised men over 60 are at greater risk.
The exact cause of penile cancer is unknown. However, build-up of smegma (a smelly, cheese-like substance) under the foreskin is believed to be a factor because it can lead to chronic (i.e. long-term) inflammation. The disease is almost unknown among men who were circumcised shortly after birth.
Your best bet is to wash your penis thoroughly every day, especially if you are uncircumcised.
You should see your doctor immediately if you find a lump on your penis. Your GP will perform a physical examination that can rule out any other conditions. He or she can refer you on to a hospital specialist for more detailed assessment.
The treatment depends on the size and location of the tumour.
The first step is usually removal of the lump combined with circumcision. If the lump is too large to be removed without causing disfigurement then the surgeon will take only a small portion for analysis (biopsy). If penile cancer is confirmed then other options are possible:
If you are uncircumcised, you should clean behind your foreskin regularly.
The outcome can be good if you are diagnosed and treated early. However, cancer of the penis often spreads to other parts of the body in the early stages of the disease. If the disease has not reached the lymph glands then between 65% and 90% of men survive for five years or more.
If a partial or total penectomy is performed then a new exit point for the urethra (water pipe) will have been fashioned at the time of surgery (this procedure is known as a urethrostomy). Sexual functioning can be maintained even when a large part of the penis has been removed, although your erection will be impaired. You will need time to get used to the appearance of the penis. It is likely to be distressing at first and counselling may be helpful. Joining a support group of other men affected may also help.
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Date of last review 07/04/14
Date of next review 03/04/17
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