Penile cancer is a rare type of malignant growth that occurs on the skin or tissues of the penis.

It often presents as a palpable visible penile lesion w/ signs that may include pain, bleeding, discharge or a foul odor.

The lesion may be fungating, nodular or ulcerative and may be concealed by phimosis.

Surgical Intervention

  • Goal is to remove penile cancer completely with negative surgical margins preserving as much of the penis as possible
    • Intra-operative frozen sections may confirm negativity of surgical margins

Penile-preserving Techniques

  • For tumors which are superficial or confined to the glans, a penile-preserving procedure is recommended, though recurrence rates are higher than radical surgical procedures
    • Local recurrence depends on tumor grade & presence of lymphovascular invasion
  • As primary treatment approach for localized lesions, penile-preserving techniques appear to have superior cosmetic & functional results
    • Whenever possible, treatment for organ preservation should be offered for better quality of life & sexual function
  • Surgical excision can lead to scarring, deformity & function impairment


  • Performed prior to considering conservative non-surgical treatments
  • Radical circumcision alone may be curative for lesions limited to the prepuce provided that negative surgical margins are confirmed histologically

Wide Local Excision

  • Wide local excision with circumcision may be done in patients with Tis, Ta, T1 grade 1-4, or stage I penile cancer limited to the foreskin
    • For stage I infiltrating tumors of the glans with or without adjacent skin involvement, treatment depends on size of tumor, extent of infiltration, & degree of tumor destruction of normal tissue & options may include penectomy or microscopically controlled surgery
  • A limited excision can be performed on distal, smaller T2 to T3 tumors as long as a tumor-free margin can be obtained

Laser Therapy

  • A penile-preserving technique, laser ablation is correlated with a high continuity rate of sexual activity & sexual satisfaction
  • May be considered in patients with Tis, Ta, & T1 grade 1-2 penile cancer
  • Nd:YAG or CO2 laser results in excellent cosmetic & functional results in patients with stage 0 penile cancer
  • Nd:YAG laser therapy may be done in patients with stage I penile cancer resulting in excellent control with cosmetic appearance & sexual function preservation
  • Stage II patients with small lesions may be treated with Nd:YAG laser therapy for penis preservation


  • Complete removal of the glans & prepuce results in the lowest recurrence rate of the treatments for small penile lesions
  • Total glansectomy with or without corporeal head resurfacing may be recommended for T2 lesions
  • Total glansectomy may be considered for patients with Tis or Ta penile cancer

Partial/Total Glans Resurfacing

  • A surgical procedure primarily used for Tis lesions that removes the epithelial & subepithelial layers of the glans to the corpus spongiosum which is followed by skin graft placement
  • Offered as a primary treatment for carcinoma in situ or as a secondary treatment when treatment with topical chemotherapy or laser therapy fails
  • Determination of long-term disease control requires further follow-up

Mohs Micrographic Surgery

  • Successive horizontal layers of tissue are excised followed by microscopic examination of each layer in frozen section
  • Used in patients with in situ, T1 grade 1-2, & invasive penile cancer


  • Used in patients with erythroplasia of Queyrat & verrucous penile carcinoma with good cosmetic results


  • Penectomy is disfiguring & may have an impact on the patient’s quality of life, self-esteem, sexual function, & overall mental health
    • Must consider the patient’s preference in the choice of treatment with the risks & benefits carefully weighed
    • Counsel patients on the option of penile reconstruction
  • Depending on extent & location of the neoplasm, penile amputation can be partial or total
    • Partial penectomy for glanular & distal penile tumors preserves more length with superior cosmetic & functional results; considered the standard approach for high-grade primary tumors of the penis provided a functional penile stump can be preserved & negative margins are achieved
    • Total penectomy is performed on very large tumors that extend down the penile shaft or tumors that cannot be controlled without leaving an adequate penile length for voiding
    • Considered in patients with T1 grade 3-4 & T2 or greater penile cancer
  • Most frequent management for stage II penile cancer

Dynamic Sentinel Node Biopsy (DSNB)

  • Has a high sentinel node detection rate & sensitivity for lymph node metastases diagnosis in nonpalpable nodes
    • The entire lymph node basin should be tumor free if the sentinel nodes are uninvolved
  • Indicated treatment in intermediate- or high-risk disease & an alternative to surveillance in low-risk disease when inguinal lymph nodes are nonpalpable at physical examination
  • DSNB reduces morbidity associated with prophylactic lymph node dissection in patients with stage T2 & T3 clinically node-negative penile cancer
  • Due to the technical challenges related to DSNB, it is recommended that it should be performed in experienced centers
  • If DSNB is unavailable, visualized nodes may be diagnosed with ultrasound-guided fine-needle aspiration cytology (FNAC) biopsy or an inguinal lymph node dissection

Lymph Node Dissection

Inguinal Lymph Node Dissection (ILND)

  • Detects microscopic metastases without a pelvic dissection in patients with nonpalpable inguinal nodes
    • Provides more information than a biopsy; however, the procedure has a higher complication rate than DSNB
  • Indicated in high-risk disease & is an alternative procedure to DSNB in intermediate-risk patients for treatment & staging of the inguinal region
    • ILND is also done if positive nodes are found on DSNB
  • ILND is the standard treatment of metastases to inguinal lymph nodes & like DSNB is warranted in patients with nonpalpable inguinal lymph nodes if the following high-risk features for nodal metastasis are noted in the primary penile tumor: >50% poorly differentiated, ≥T1G3 or ≥T2 any grade, or presence of lymphovascular invasion
  • Bilateral lymph node dissection is performed in patients with high-risk features but with nonpalpable lymph nodes as laterality of inguinal nodal metastasis cannot be predicted based on the location of the tumor on the penis
    • It is also performed in immediate ILND for high-risk primary tumors or because of palpable nodes as 30% of patients with unilateral palpable node will have contralateral positive nodes that are unpalpable
  • A percutaneous biopsy is currently favored over the traditional 6-weeks antibiotic course in differentiating reactive lymph nodes from metastatic disease in patients with palpable nodes; however, a bilateral ILND should be done if ≥3 weeks after completing antibiotic therapy & removing infected primary lesion, enlarged lymph nodes are palpated as it is likely to be a metastatic lymph node disease
  • Modified inguinal lymph node dissection involves removal of the nodes within the fossa ovalis by skeletonizing the femoral vessels
    •  Has demonstrated a reduction in complications & is performed in patients with nonpalpable inguinal nodes on PE but with a primary tumor that increases their risk for inguinal metastasis

Pelvic Lymph Node Dissection (PLND)

  • Approximately 20-30% of positive inguinal lymph nodes will also have cancer in the pelvic lymph nodes & its presence is associated with <10% 5-year survival rate
  • Recommended in patients with ≥2 positive inguinal nodes & in the clinical context of high-grade cancer in the inguinal lymph node pathologic specimen

Nonpalpable Inguinal Lymph Nodes

Low-risk Disease (Tis, TaG1-2 or T1G1)

  • Patients may undergo surveillance if they are compliant with follow-up recommendations as occult micrometastases in inguinal lymph node is <17%
  • Inguinal node staging by DSNB should be offered to patients unable to continue with surveillance

Intermediate- (T1G2) or High-risk Disease (≥T2 or any G3 or G4)

  • Patients in this group should undergo DSNB or a superficial or modified ILND for treatment
  • After DSNB or ILND, further therapy may include the following:
    • Posttreatment surveillance for patients with negative inguinal nodes
    • Complete inguinal dissection for patients with 1 involved inguinal node
    • Inguinal & pelvic node dissection for patients with >2 involved inguinal nodes

Palpable Inguinal Lymph Nodes

  • A percutaneous fine-needle aspiration (FNA) biopsy can diagnose lymph node metastases in palpable nodes
    • Procedure is omitted for high-risk tumors to prevent delay of initiating inguinal lymph node dissection (ILND)
  • A repeat biopsy or node excision may be done if FNA is negative but nodes are clinically suspicious
    •  If results are negative on excisional biopsy, offer surveillance
    •  If positive, patient should undergo ILND
  •  Positive FNA findings in unilateral, mobile inguinal node indicate immediate ILND
    •  Patients should also undergo a staging ILND on the opposite side as it is common to have bilateral inguinal drainage from the primary tumor
    •  A 0-1 positive node finding without extranodal cancer extension on ILND warrants surveillance
    •  ≥2 positive nodes or presence of extranodal extension requires pelvic lymph node dissection
  •  Positive FNA findings in multiple or bilateral inguinal lymph nodes (mobile or fixed) require neoadjuvant chemotherapy followed by ILND & pelvic lymph node dissection (PLND) as patient possibly has stage N2 metastatic disease & is at risk of failing treatment with surgery alone

Enlarged Pelvic Lymph Nodes

  • A computed tomography (CT), computed tomography/positron emission tomography (CT/PET), or magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) may be done if with positive FNA to detect adverse nodal features, eg ≥3 positive nodes, extranodal extension or pelvic metastases
    • A bulky (≥4 cm nodal size) but resectable pelvic lymphadenopathy should be given neoadjuvant chemotherapy followed by consolidation surgery if disease responds or is stable; chemotherapy with radiation therapy for local control or participation in a clinical trial if disease progresses or is unresectable
    • If patient is not a candidate for surgery, radiation therapy with concurrent chemotherapy followed by surveillance can be given for enlarged pelvic lymphadenopathy
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