Penile Cancer

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Treating Penile Cancer TOPICS

Chemotherapy for penile cancer

Chemotherapy (often called chemo) is the use of drugs to treat cancer. Two types of chemotherapy that may be used in treating penile cancer are topical chemotherapy and systemic chemotherapy.

Systemic chemotherapy

Systemic chemo uses anti-cancer drugs that are injected into a vein or given by mouth. These drugs go through the bloodstream and reach cancer cells in all areas of the body. This treatment is useful for cancers that have spread to lymph nodes or distant organs. Chemo can also be used to shrink cancers before surgery to make them easier to remove. It is also being studied to see if giving it after surgery (called adjuvant chemotherapy) will keep the cancer from coming back and improve survival.

Doctors give chemo in cycles, with each cycle of treatment followed by a rest period to give the body time to recover. Chemo cycles generally last about 3 to 4 weeks. Some of the drugs used to treat penile cancer include:

Often, these drugs are used together to treat penile cancer that has spread to lymph nodes or other organs. Some commonly used combinations include:

  • Vincristine, bleomycin, and methotrexate
  • Cisplatin plus 5-FU
  • BMP: bleomycin, methotrexate, and cisplatin ("platinum")
  • TIP: paclitaxel (Taxol), ifosfamide, and cisplatin ("platinum")

Possible side effects: Chemotherapy drugs attack cells that are dividing quickly, which is why they work against cancer cells. But other cells in the body, such as those in the bone marrow, the lining of the mouth and intestines, and the hair follicles, divide quickly, too. These cells are also likely to be affected by chemotherapy, which can lead to some side effects.

The side effects of chemotherapy depend on the type and dose of drugs you take and how long they are used. Common side effects can include:

  • Hair loss
  • Mouth sores
  • Loss of appetite
  • Nausea and vomiting
  • Low blood counts

Chemo drugs can affect the blood-forming cells of the bone marrow. This can lead to:

  • Increased chance of infections (from low white blood cell counts)
  • Easy bruising or bleeding (from low blood platelet counts)
  • Fatigue (from low red blood cell counts)

These side effects usually don’t last long and go away after treatment is finished. There are often ways to lessen chemo side effects. For example, you can get medicine to help prevent or reduce nausea and vomiting.

Some of the drugs used to treat penile cancer can have specific side effects.

  • Cisplatin can cause nerve damage (neuropathy) and kidney damage (nephropathy). The nerve damage can cause numbness and tingling in the hands and feet. Doctors give a lot of intravenous (IV) fluid with cisplatin to help prevent the kidney damage.
  • 5-fluorouracil (5-FU) can cause sores in the mouth (mucositis) that can make it hard to eat. This drug can also cause diarrhea.
  • Vincristine and paclitaxel can also cause nerve damage.
  • A rare side effect of bleomycin is lung damage, which can lead to problems breathing. This risk is higher in patients who smoke.
  • Ifosfamide can damage the lining of the bladder (called hemorrhagic cystitis). A drug called mesna is often given with ifosfamide to prevent this problem.

Be sure to ask your doctor or nurse about medicines to help reduce side effects, and let him or her know when you do have side effects so they can be managed effectively.

For more information on chemotherapy, see our document, A Guide to Chemotherapy. If you’d like to know more about a drug used in your treatment or a specific drug mentioned in this section see our Guide to Cancer Drugs , ask a member of your health care team, or call us with the names of the medicines you’re taking.

Last Medical Review: 12/06/2013
Last Revised: 01/09/2015