What’s New in Penile Cancer Research and Treatment?

Penile cancer is an uncommon disease in this country, so 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.

Preventing penile cancer

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.

Treating penile cancer

Doctors are looking for better ways to preserve as much of the penis as possible in treating early-stage cancers. For example, in some cases, laser therapy can cure or control the disease 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 find 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 looking at using different chemotherapy drugs to treat penile cancer, such as irinotecan (Camptosar) and vinflunine.

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. Learning more about these abnormal genes in penile cancer might 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 therapies might sometimes work when standard chemo drugs don’t, and they tend to have different (and often less severe) side effects than most standard chemo drugs.

For example, some drugs such as cetuximab (Erbitux) and dacomitinib target a cell protein called EGFR. Squamous cell cancers (which includes most penile cancers) sometimes have too much of this protein, so these drugs might be helpful against them.

But it’s not yet clear how useful these or other targeted drugs might be against penile cancer. Early results suggest some benefit, but more research is needed.

The American Cancer Society medical and editorial content team
Our team is made up of doctors and master's-prepared nurses with deep knowledge of cancer care as well as journalists, editors, and translators with extensive experience in medical writing.

Last Medical Review: March 30, 2015 Last Revised: February 9, 2016

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