Diagnosis & Staging
Penis cancer may also be called cancer of the penis.
Image of the penis
These are some of the symptoms of penile cancer:
- Sore or ulcer on the tip of your penis that does not heal.
- Lump in your groin (the area where the top of your legs join your body).
- Discharge from your penis. This may cause irritation and itching.
- Bleeding when you get an erection.
If you have any signs or symptoms that you are worried about, please talk to your family doctor or nurse practitioner.
Tests that may help diagnose penile cancer include:
- Physical exam
- Biopsy: This is when a doctor takes a sample of your tissue. A specialty doctor (pathologist) then examines the tissue for cancer.
- Circumcision (foreskin is removed): You may need this to remove the cancer or to biopsy the cancer.
- Chest x-ray: to see if the cancer has spread.
- CT (computed tomography) scan of your pelvis: to see if the cancer has spread.
For more information on tests used to diagnose cancer, see BC Cancer Library screening and diagnosis pathfinder
- 95% (95 out of 100) of penile cancers are squamous cell carcinomas. These cancers start in the squamous cells, which are in the skin of the penis and the head of the penis.
- Rare types of penile cancers include melanomas and sarcomas.
Staging describes the cancer. Staging is based on how much cancer is in the body, where it was first diagnosed, if the cancer has spread and where it has spread to.
The stage of the cancer can help your health care team plan your treatment. It can also tell them how your cancer might respond to treatment and the chance that your cancer may come back (recur).
- Stage 0: Carcinoma in-situ. The cancer is only in the top layers of the skin of the penis.
- Stage 1: The cancer has spread to the connective tissue just under the skin of the penis. It has not spread to any lymph nodes or anywhere else in the body.
- Stage 2: The cancer has spread to one or more of these places:
- Blood or lymph vessels
- Internal chambers of the penis
- Urethra (the tube that your pee comes out of).
- Cancer has not spread to any lymph nodes or anywhere else in the body.
- Stage 3: The cancer has spread to the urethra or prostate (the gland that produces a fluid which makes up a large portion of semen).
- Stage 4: The cancer has spread to any of the following:
- Nearby structures, other than the urethra or prostate.
- Lymph nodes in the groin (inguinal lymph nodes).
- Lymph nodes in the pelvis (pelvic lymph nodes).
- Other parts of your body such as the liver or lungs. This is called distant metastasis.
The grade of the cancer describes how different the cancer cells look from normal cells and how fast the cancer cells are growing. A pathologist will give the cancer a grade after looking at the cells under a microscope.
Penile cancer can be grade 1, 2, 3 or 4. The lower the number, the lower the grade.
Low grade: cells are abnormal but look a lot like normal cells. Low grade cancers usually grow slowly and are less likely to spread.
High grade: cells are abnormal and do not look like normal cells. High grade cancers usually grow more quickly and are more likely to spread.
Knowing the grade of your cancer can help your health care team plan your treatment.