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Radiotherapy treatment for penile cancer

Radiotherapy uses high energy waves to treat cancer. You can have radiotherapy for penile cancer externally or internally.

When you might have it

Surgery is usually the main treatment for penile cancer. You might have radiotherapy for the following reasons:

  • instead of surgery if you are unable to have, or do not want to have, an operation
  • instead of surgery to lymph nodes in the groin
  • after surgery if there is a risk that cancer cells are left in the groin
  • to treat the lymph nodes in the pelvis if there is a high risk of the cancer coming back

Radiotherapy and chemotherapy together (chemoradiotherapy) have been used in research studies, but further studies are necessary. 

Radiotherapy to relieve symptoms

You might have radiotherapy to relieve symptoms if penile cancer has spread. This is called palliative radiotherapy. Radiotherapy can shrink the cancer for a period of time and relieve symptoms. 

You usually have a short course of daily treatments to the affected area, over a few days.

How you have it

External radiotherapy

You usually have external radiotherapy (from outside your body) for penile cancer. External radiotherapy destroys cancer cells using radiation aimed at the cancer from a machine.

Internal radiotherapy

Some people have internal radiotherapy. This is also called brachytherapy (prounounced brack-ee-therapy). This is when the doctor puts thin radiotherapy tubes or wires on, or inside the penis, close to the tumour.

Before you have treatment

You need to have a circumcision (removal of the foreskin) before you have radiotherapy. Radiotherapy treatment may cause swelling and inflammation of the penis. Removing the foreskin prevents any problems.

Last reviewed: 
03 Feb 2021
Next review due: 
03 Feb 2024
  • Guidelines on Penile Cancer

    O W Hakenberg and others

    European Association of Urology (EAU), 2018

  • Penile carcinoma: ESMO clinical practice guidelines

    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