Decorative image


Find out about the latest UK research looking at penile cancer.  

Research issues in penile cancer

Research helps doctors to find new and better treatments, as well as new ways to diagnose and monitor cancer.

It can be more difficult to do research into rare cancers such as penile cancer because there are fewer men to take part in them. So, compared to more common cancers there are relatively few trials.

Research into diagnosing penile cancer

Researchers are looking at using a new type of scan to diagnose penile cancer. They want to find out how well this scan works at picking up cancer cells that have spread to the lymph nodes in the groin.

Research into treatment

Light therapy (PDT) for early penile cancer

Photodynamic therapy (PDT) is an experiemental treatment for penile cancer that uses a chemical to make skin cells more sensitive to light.

Doctors might use it to treat in situ cancers of the penis, including erythroplasia of Queyrat or Bowens disease. These are pre cancerous conditions which means there are changes in the cells that can develop into cancers. They affect the squamous cells of the penis on the glans under the foreskin.

Before you have PDT to your penis you have your foreskin removed (circumcision) .

When you have the PDT your doctor puts some anaesthetic cream on the area to be treated. They remove any crusted skin and apply a cream containing the light sensitising chemical. The cream stays on for between 3 and 6 hours. Your doctor then shines a very strong light onto the area for up to 45 minutes. The light kills any cells that have absorbed the light sensitising drug.

After treatment the treated skin is more sensitive to light, both bright daylight and indoor lighting. You need to protect the area from light for 36 hours. You also need to keep the area clean and dry but after 36 hours you can bathe or shower as normal. The area will probably form a scab, which usually falls off after about 3 weeks.

You can usually have this treatment as an outpatient and you can have the treatment more than once.


Trials are looking at different chemotherapy drugs, either on their own or in combination with other chemotherapy drugs.

Researchers have looked at:

  • a combination of chemotherapy drugs before surgery for penile cancer
  • giving another chemotherapy drug alongside standard chemotherapy treatment for penile cancer

These studies are now closed and have results.

Researchers are also looking at:

  • using other chemotherapy drugs to treat penile cancer
  • using chemotherapy or chemotherapy with radiotherapy (chemoradiotherapy) before surgery for penile cancer

Research into finding new ways to monitor patients

Doctors would like to find new ways to monitor people more closely to help them predict who might have a problem or complication after treatment, and whose cancers might recur.

Doctors think that substances in the body that can be measured could help do this. They are called biomarkers. Doctors are looking into whether there are biomarkers that can help them monitor people after treatment for penile cancer as well as several other types of cancer.

Last reviewed: 
07 Apr 2016
  • A phase II multicentre study of irinotecan (CPT 11) in combination with cisplatin (CDDP) in metastatic or locally advanced penile carcinoma (EORTC PROTOCOL 30992).

    C Theodore and others

    Annals of Oncology 2008, Jul 2008


    Cancer: Principles and practice of oncology (10 th edition)

    DeVita VT, Hellman S and Rosenberg SA

    Lippincott, Williams and Wilkins, 2015


    Guidelines on Penile Cancer

    O.W. Hakenberg and others

    European Association of Urology (EAU) 2014


    Penile intraepithelial neoplasia: results of photodynamic therapy.

    J Paoli and others

    Acta Derm Venereal 2006; 86(5):418-21.

Information and help