But after male cancer charity Orchid revealed that the little-known cancer has increased by 21%, men are being encouraged to get acquainted with the signs and symptoms.
The research, supported by male cancer charity Orchid and led by UK penile cancer experts, offers a unique insight into a rare and much misunderstood disease.
“Penile cancer is rare compared to other male cancers and so statistics on long-term diagnosis and survival rates are hard to find.” says study author Manit Arya. “This study presents the most robust and up-to-date data available on the incidence, mortality and survival trends in England.”
Penile cancer, says Cancer Research UK tends to present in about 500 cases in the UK every year. "If found early, the chances of curing it are very high."
Orchid chief executive, Rebecca Porta says: “The research shows that the incidence of this devastating cancer, which currently receives little recognition, is on the increase. Unlike other more common cancers, penile cancer is rare and many men feel embarrassed and unable to talk openly about it. This can lead to feelings of isolation at a time when support is vital. It is very important that men are aware of the warning signs and symptoms of the disease and that those with worrying symptoms seek medical advice as soon as possible.”
An early diagnosis, says Orchid, can be missed by healthcare professionals or can be mistaken for a sexually transmitted disease or a benign skin condition. This can result in delays in getting a correct diagnosis and starting life-saving treatment.
Early diagnosis can mean better treatment options and outcomes, as Asif Muneer explains: "Penile preserving surgery is now possible and men no longer have to undergo total or partial amputation of the penis. We also have better diagnostic techniques for the lymph nodes which has reduced the morbidity associated with groin surgery.”
The exact cause of penile cancer is not known, however the following have been linked to an increased risk:
- Human Papilloma Virus (HPV) infection: HPV-related genital warts are associated with a six-fold risk of penile cancer. There has been a rapid increase in the incidence of genital warts in England and Wales in males from 1970 to 2009, with a 30% rise occurring during 2000–2009.
- Smoking: A man’s risk of developing cancer of the penis is greater if he smokes. It has been suggested that smoking may act as
- Uncircumcised penis: Penile cancer is much less common in men who have been circumcised soon after birth. Men who have not been circumcised may find it more difficult to pull back the foreskin enough to clean thoroughly underneath resulting in poor hygiene.
- A painless lump or ulcer on the penis that doesn't heal
- A red rash under the foreskin
- Flat growths of brownish colour
- Difficulty in drawing back the foreskin (phimosis)
- Unusual smelling discharge from under the foreskin
- Unexplained change in colour of the skin
- Swollen lymph nodes in your groin area
For more information, visit the Orchid website.
1. Arya, M et al (2013). Long-term trends in incidence, survival and mortality of primary penile cancer in England.
Cancer Causes Control.
2. Using cancer registration and death records held by the Office of National Statistics and with significant help from the Faculty of Epidemiology and Population Health, London School of Hygiene & Tropical Medicine.
3. Arya, M et al (2013). Malignant and premalignant lesions of the penis. BMJ.