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Long term side effects of radiotherapy for penile cancer

Not everyone has long term side effects of radiotherapy. Your team tries to make sure you have as few side effects as possible. But some people are more sensitive than others to radiation.

Long term side effects are more likely with higher doses of radiation. You are unlikely to have these with a short course of radiotherapy to help with your symptoms. The long term side effects start between a few months and a couple of years after your course of treatment.

They can continue on for a lot longer and sometimes might be permanent.

Tiredness and weakness

Tiredness after radiotherapy might carry on for some months. You might also feel weak and lack energy. Various things can help you to reduce tiredness and cope with it, for example exercise.

Some research has shown that taking gentle exercise can give you more energy. It is important to balance exercise with resting.

Difficulty passing urine

Radiotherapy to the penis can make the urethra Open a glossary item narrower, which can make passing urine difficult and sometimes impossible. Doctors call this a stricture. It happens if the tissue inside the penis becomes thicker (fibrosis). Tell your doctor or nurse if you have any difficulty in passing urine. You might need to have your urethra stretched (dilated). Or you may have surgery to widen the urethra.

Reduced blood supply to the penis

Radiotherapy can sometimes affect the blood flow to the treated area. This can cause problems in keeping the tissue healthy. The tissue may become starved of oxygen and nutrients. If you notice any changes in the colour of your skin where you had treatment, tell your doctor straight away.

Difficulty in getting an erection

Most men are able to have sex after they've had radiotherapy. Getting an erection may be more difficult if you have:

  • thickening of the skin on the penis
  • problems with blood flow to the penis

Tell your doctor if you have any problems.

Swelling of your legs

Some people get swelling in one or both legs after radiotherapy to the lymph nodes in the groin and pelvis. This swelling is called lymphoedema (lim-fo-dee-ma).

More information

We have more information about the possible long term side effects of radiotherapy for cancer in general.

Last reviewed: 
04 Feb 2021
Next review due: 
04 Feb 2024
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    O W Hakenberg and others

    European Association of Urology (EAU), 2018

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    HN Van Poppel and others

    Annals of Oncology, 2013. Volume 24, Supplement 6

  • Long-term evaluation of urinary, sexual, and quality of life outcomes after brachytherapy for penile carcinoma

    D Gambachidz and others 

    Brachytherapy, 2018. Volume 17

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    VT DeVita, TS Lawrence and SA Rosenberg

    Wolters Kluwer, 2019