What`s new in penile cancer research and treatment?
Since penile cancer is an uncommon disease in this country, it is hard to study. For example, it is hard to get large numbers of men to enroll in clinical trials to test newer forms of treatment, simply because there are fewer men with this type of cancer.
In some cases, laser therapy can cure or control the disease in its early stages and preserve the appearance and function of the penis. Research is being done to identify the best type of laser to use in these early tumors.
Scientists are working to discover the best ways to use radiation. This may mean combining radiation with chemotherapy to avoid surgical removal of the penis, whenever possible.
Doctors are also studying newer uses of chemotherapy for penile cancer, such as giving it before surgery to try to shrink the tumor. This might make surgery more effective, or might even allow the doctor to do a less invasive type of surgery. A recent study gave men with penile cancer with spread to lymph nodes the chemo drugs paclitaxel (Taxol), ifosfamide, and cisplatin before surgery with good results. Half of the men treated had their cancers shrink, and in a few of them the cancer went away completely. It is hoped that treatment like this will help men with advanced penile cancer live longer.
Doctors have looked at using different drugs to treat penile cancer, such as irinotecan (Camptosar®) and interferon.
Scientists are learning much more about how certain genes called oncogenes and tumor suppressor genes control cell growth and how changes in these genes cause normal cells to become cancerous. The ultimate goal of this research is gene therapy -- replacing the damaged genes in cancer cells with normal genes to stop the abnormal behavior of these cells.
Learning more about these abnormal genes in penile cancer can also help guide use of targeted therapies. Targeted therapy is a term used for drugs that target certain cell changes and signals that are needed for a cancer to develop and keep growing. Targeted cancer therapies do not damage bone marrow or blood cells like most standard chemo drugs do. They can be used alone or along with other drugs and cancer treatments. Targeted therapy is still relatively new compared with other forms of cancer treatment, like surgery, radiation, or regular chemo.
These treatments have been helpful in treating some kinds of cancer, but not as much is known about the value of these new drugs in penile cancer, because penile cancer is so rare. There have been a few cases of advanced penile cancer in which doctors chose targeted therapies that are effective against cancers with cells similar to those of penile cancer. Preliminary results suggest some value, but more research is needed.
Vaccines that protect against infection with types of HPV linked to certain cancers have been developed. One of these, Gardasil, is now approved for use in young men to help prevent genital warts and anal cancer. While it has not yet been studied, the hope is that the vaccine may eventually help prevent other cancers linked to HPV in men, including penile cancers.
Last Medical Review: 05/02/2012
Last Revised: 01/17/2013