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Tests for penile cancer

Men and women discussing penile cancer

This page tells you about tests for penile cancer (cancer of the penis). There is information about

 

A quick guide to what's on this page

Tests for penile cancer

If you suspect you might have cancer of the penis, the first doctor you’re likely to see is your GP. Your GP will examine you and ask you about your symptoms and general health. After your examination, your doctor may refer you to hospital for tests and X-rays, or may ask you to see a specialist. This is usually a urologist, who is a doctor specialising in diseases that affect the urinary system and genital organs.

At the hospital

The specialist will ask you about your medical history and any symptoms that you have. They will also check you over, including examining the lymph nodes (glands) in your groin to see if there are signs of any cancer spread. You might also have some blood tests.

Biopsy

Your doctor may want you to have a biopsy. To do this the doctor takes a small sample of tissue from the affected area of the penis. They then send the sample to the lab. A pathologist looks at the cells under a microscope to see if they are cancerous. If you do have cancer, the pathologist will be able to find out what type of cancer it is.

You usually have your biopsy under anaesthetic, which may be a local or general anaesthetic. If you have a general anaesthetic, you may need to stay in hospital overnight.

If the lymph nodes in your groin are larger than normal, your doctor may take a sample of fluid to check if there are any cancer cells. This is called a fine needle aspiration (FNA).
 

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Visiting your GP

If you suspect you might have cancer of the penis, the first doctor you’re likely to see is your GP. Your GP will ask you

  • What symptoms you are having
  • When you get your symptoms
  • Whether anything you do makes your symptoms better or worse

Your doctor will also examine you and ask questions about your general health. After your examination, your doctor may refer you to hospital for tests and X-rays, or may ask you to see a specialist. This is usually a urologist, who is a doctor specialising in diseases that affect the urinary system and genital organs.

 

At the hospital

The specialist will ask you about your medical history and any symptoms that you have. They will also check you over, including examining the lymph nodes (glands) in your groin to see if there are signs of any cancer spread. If your lymph nodes contain cancer cells, they may be larger than normal.

Your specialist might also arrange some tests. These can include blood tests and a biopsy.

 

Blood tests

You might have a full blood count to check the number of cells in your blood. It also gives an idea about your general health too. You will also have blood tests to check if your liver and kidneys are working normally.

 

Having a biopsy

Your doctor may want you to have a biopsy of the abnormal area on your penis. You usually have an incisional or excisional biopsy. 

An incisional biopsy means using a surgical knife (scalpel) to remove a small piece of the abnormal area. An excisional biopsy is the same, but the doctor removes the whole of the abnormal area. The sample is sent to a laboratory and a specialist doctor called a pathologist, examines it under a microscope. The pathologist can see if the sample contains areas of cancer.  

You will usually have your biopsy under anaesthetic, which might be a local or general anaesthetic. If you have a general anaesthetic, you may need to stay in hospital overnight. After these types of biopsies, you will need to have some stitches put in where the skin has been cut. The stitches will stay in for about a week. You may have to go back to the hospital to have them removed. Or they may be dissolvable stitches. 

If the lymph nodes in your groin are larger than normal, your doctor may take a sample of fluid to send to the lab. This is to check if there are any cancer cells. It is called a fine needle aspiration (FNA). There is more about this on the page about further tests for penile cancer.

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Updated: 21 January 2014