How is penile cancer treated?
Making treatment decisions
After the cancer is found and staged, your cancer care team will discuss treatment options with you. You should take time and think about all of your choices. In choosing a treatment plan, some factors to consider include:
- The type and stage of your cancer
- Your overall physical health
- Your personal preferences about treatments and their side effects
The main types of treatments used to treat penile cancers are:
- Local therapy (other than surgery) for some very early penile cancers
- Radiation therapy
Surgery is the main treatment for most penile cancers, but sometimes radiation therapy may be used, either instead of or in addition to surgery. Other local treatments might also be used for early-stage tumors. Chemotherapy may be given for some larger tumors or if the cancer has spread.
Depending on the type and stage of your cancer and your treatment options, you might have different types of doctors on your treatment team, including:
- A urologist: a surgeon who specializes in diseases of the male genitals and urinary tract
- A radiation oncologist: a doctor who uses radiation to treat cancer
- A medical oncologist: a doctor who uses chemotherapy and other medicines to treat cancer
Many other specialists might be part of your treatment team as well, including other doctors, physician assistants (PAs), nurse practitioners (NPs), nurses, psychologists, social workers, rehabilitation specialists, and other health professionals. See Health Professionals Associated With Cancer Care for more on this.The goal of your cancer care team is to treat the cancer while limiting the treatment’s effects on the function and appearance of the penis. If the cancer can’t be cured, the goal may be to remove or destroy as much of the cancer as possible and to prevent the tumor from growing, spreading, or returning for as long as possible. Sometimes treatment is aimed at relieving symptoms, such as pain or bleeding, even if you might not be cured.
It’s important to discuss all of your treatment options, including their goals and possible side effects, with your doctors to help make the decision that best fits your needs. It’s also very important to ask questions if there is anything you’re not sure about. You can find some good questions to ask in the section “What should you ask your doctor about penile cancer?”
If time permits, it’s often a good idea to seek a second opinion. A second opinion can give you more information and help you feel more confident about the treatment plan you choose.
Thinking about taking part in a clinical trial
Clinical trials are carefully controlled research studies that are done to get a closer look at promising new treatments or procedures. Clinical trials are one way to get state-of-the art cancer treatment. In some cases they may be the only way to get access to newer treatments. They are also the best way for doctors to learn better methods to treat cancer. Still, they are not right for everyone.
If you would like to learn more about clinical trials that might be right for you, start by asking your doctor if your clinic or hospital conducts clinical trials. You can also call our clinical trials matching service at 1-800-303-5691 for a list of studies that meet your medical needs, or see Clinical Trials to learn more.
Considering complementary and alternative methods
You may hear about alternative or complementary methods that your doctor hasn’t mentioned to treat your cancer or relieve symptoms. These methods can include vitamins, herbs, and special diets, or other methods such as acupuncture or massage, to name a few.
Complementary methods refer to treatments that are used along with your regular medical care. Alternative treatments are used instead of a doctor’s medical treatment. Although some of these methods might be helpful in relieving symptoms or helping you feel better, many have not been proven to work. Some might even be dangerous.
Be sure to talk to your cancer care team about any method you are thinking about using. They can help you learn what is known (or not known) about the method, which can help you make an informed decision. See Complementary and Alternative Medicine to learn more.
Help getting through cancer treatment
Your cancer care team will be your first source of information and support, but there are other resources for help when you need it. Hospital- or clinic-based support services are an important part of your care. These might include nursing or social work services, financial aid, nutritional advice, rehab, or spiritual help.
The American Cancer Society also has programs and services – including rides to treatment, lodging, support groups, and more – to help you get through treatment. Call our National Cancer Information Center at 1-800-227-2345 and speak with one of our trained specialists on call 24 hours a day, every day.
For information about some of the most common treatment approaches based on the extent of the disease, see the section “Treatment of penile cancers, by stage.”
Last Medical Review: 03/30/2015
Last Revised: 02/09/2016