Types of penile cancer | Cancer Research UK
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Types of penile cancer

The penis is made of several different types of body tissues. The type of penile cancer you have depends on the type of cell the cancer developed from. To find this out, your doctor takes a tissue sample (biopsy) and sends it to a laboratory.

Squamous cell cancer of the penis

Over 9 out of 10 penile cancers (90%) are this type. Squamous cells are the flat, skin like cells that cover the surface of the penis. Squamous cell cancers can develop anywhere on the penis, but the most common sites are the head of the penis (glans) and the foreskin (in uncircumcised men). This type of cancer usually grows slowly over many years.

Squamous cell cancers that are found early are usually curable. Before squamous cell cancer develops, the cells might go through pre cancerous changes. When the cancer cells are only in the surface layer of the penis they are called carcinoma in situ (CIS) or penile intraepithelial neoplasia (PIN).

Verrucous carcinoma is a rare type of squamous cell penile cancer that looks like a large wart. It is a slow growing tumour that rarely spreads to other parts of the body.

Other types of penile cancer

Adenocarcinoma means that the cancer started in the glandular cells that produce sweat in the skin of the penis. 

Melanoma, basal cell carcinoma and sarcoma are rare types of penile cancer.

 

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Different types of penile cancer

The penis is made of several different types of body tissues. The type of penile cancer you have depends on the type of cell the cancer developed from. To find this out, your doctor takes a tissue sample (biopsy) and sends it to a laboratory where a pathologist examines it closely. The cells of each type of penile cancer look different under a microscope.

 

Squamous cell cancer of the penis

This is by far the most common type of penile cancer. Over 9 out of 10 penile cancers (90%) are this type. Squamous cell cancers can develop anywhere on the penis but the most common sites are the

Squamous cells are flat, skin like cells that cover the surface of the penis. This type of cancer generally grows slowly over many years. But occasionally it can grow more quickly. The cells might go through pre cancerous changes before squamous cell cancer develops.

Cancer cells that are only in the skin of the penis and have not spread to any deeper tissues are called carcinoma in situ (CIS) or penile intraepithelial neoplasia (PIN). The condition can stay at this stage for several years. The areas look like small lumps (nodules) or sores (ulcers) and can vary in size. 

Your doctor might call CIS of the penis by other names, depending on where on the penis it is. 

  • CIS of the head of the penis (glans) is called erythroplasia of Queyrat
  • CIS on the shaft of the penis (or the skin of other parts of the body) is known as Bowen’s disease

Squamous cell cancers that are found early are usually curable. 

Verrucous carcinoma is a rare type of squamous cell penile cancer. It looks like a large wart and is a slow growing tumour that rarely spreads to other parts of the body. Verrucous carcinoma is usually curable with surgery.

The remaining 10% of penile cancers are made up of the following types.

 

Adenocarcinoma

Adenocarcinoma means that the cancer started in the glandular cells that produce sweat in the skin of the penis. This type is much rarer than squamous cell penile cancer. 

 

Melanoma of the penis

Melanomas develop from the cells in the skin that give the skin its colour. Although melanomas usually develop on areas of the body that are exposed to the sun, a few develop in places that are not generally directly in the sun. 

 

Basal cell cancer of the penis

This type of cancer develops from basal cells, which are found in the deepest layer of the skin. Basal cell cancers develop mostly in areas exposed to the sun but can develop in other places. This type of cancer is very slow growing and very rarely spreads to other parts of the body. 

 

Sarcoma of the penis

Sarcomas are cancers that start in the body’s connective tissues. Connective tissues are the tissues that form the structure of the body, such as bone, muscle, fat and cartilage. Sarcomas of the penis are extremely rare but they tend to grow more quickly than other types of penile cancer.

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Updated: 1 April 2016