Problems after surgery for penile cancer

There is a risk of problems or complications after any operation. Not everyone who has surgery has a problem or complication. Many problems are minor but some can be life threatening.

Treating them as soon as possible is important.

Possible problems depend on the type of surgery you have. After circumcision you are unlikely to have any problems, apart from possibly infection. After more extensive surgery you might have a risk of erection problems or problems passing urine. 

Blood clots

After surgery, you're at risk of blood clots developing in your legs. There is also a small risk of a blood clot in your lungs.

To prevent blood clots, your nurses get you up as soon as possible after your operation. They encourage you to move around or do your leg exercises.

Also, during and after your operation, you wear special stockings (called anti embolism stockings or TEDS). And after your operation you might have injections to thin your blood for a while.

Tell your doctor straight away or go to A&E if you:

  • have a painful, red, swollen leg, which may feel warm to touch
  • are short of breath
  • have pain in your chest or upper back
  • cough up blood

Infections

You have antibiotics to reduce the risk of developing an infection after surgery. Tell your doctor or nurse if you have any symptoms of an infection. They include:

  • feeling generally unwell
  • shivering
  • feeling hot and cold
  • feeling sick
  • swelling or redness around your wound

Chest and breathing problems

Chest infections, including pneumonia, can be serious. 

You can lower your risk by:

  • stopping smoking before your operation
  • getting up and moving as soon as possible after your operation
  • doing any breathing exercises your physiotherapist teaches you

If you get an infection you have antibiotics to treat it. 

Feeling tired and weak

Most people feel weak and lack strength for some time afterwards. How long this lasts varies between people.

Tell your doctor or nurse if the weakness continues for more than a few weeks. They can suggest things to help, such as physiotherapy.

Erection problems and sex life changes

Some men can not have an erection after their surgery. Doctors might call this impotence. This can be very distressing for some people. The chance of this happening depends on the type of surgery you have.

There are medicines and devices that can help with erection problems after surgery. Your doctor or specialist nurse can also refer you to a clinic for people who have sexual problems after treatment. You can store sperm before your operation if you would like to have children in future. 

Problems passing urine

Problems with controlling the flow of urine can happen after surgery to the penis. The chance of problems depends on the type of surgery you have. Let your doctor or specialist nurse know straight away if you have any problems.  

Leakage of urine

Leakage of urine is not a common problem after surgery unless you leaked urine before. If you have any urine leakage let your doctor know. There might be ways of helping with this, such as medicines or muscle exercises to help with bladder control. You might also need to wear a small pad.

Your doctor can refer you to a special clinic if leakage becomes an ongoing problem. Staff there can help you with further muscle exercises and bladder training.

Bladder training

Bladder training encourages your bladder to hold larger amounts of urine for longer periods of time. You keep a diary of when you go to the toilet and gradually increase the time between each visit.

Spraying urine

You might find you are spraying urine, rather than having a steady stream when you go. This might happen after a glansectomy or partial penectomy, due to pressure on the urethra Open a glossary item.

Talk to your specialist nurse or doctor about this. Sitting down to pass urine can help. They might recommend a male funnel. This equipment can help with spraying by helping direct the urine stream.

Not being able to pass urine

Sometimes surgery to the penis can narrow the urethra. Let your doctor know if you find it more difficult to pass urine. They can advise you on what can help. This problem might happen some time after surgery.

You might need a small operation to make the urethra wider. The operation is called urethral dilatation.

Swelling in the legs and genitals

Some people get swelling in one or both legs after radiotherapy or surgery to the lymph nodes in the groin and pelvis. This is called lymphoedema.

Lymphoedema is easier to manage as soon as any signs of swelling appear. If you see any swelling in your feet, legs, tummy or genitals speak to your GP or doctor at the hospital. They can refer you to a lymphoedema specialist.

Fluid build up after groin lymph node surgery

A lymphocele is a collection of lymph fluid in the groin. This is often small or goes away on its own. In rare cases it can be large enough to give you problems moving around.

Doctors can treat this by putting in a small needle and draining the fluid.

Wound and skin problems after groin lymph node surgery

Your small wounds might take time to heal or the wound might open. In rare cases the skin overlying the wound site may have problems with blood supply. Your team will tell you how to care for your wound and who to contact if you have any problems.

Coping

This cancer affects a deeply personal and private part of your body. It can be difficult to cope after surgery.

We have information about living with penile cancer, including changes to your body after surgery and who can help you cope.

For support and information, you can call the Cancer Research UK information nurses on freephone 0808 800 4040, from 9am to 5pm, Monday to Friday. They can give advice about who can help you and what kind of support is available.
Last reviewed: 
01 Feb 2021
Next review due: 
01 Feb 2024
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    OW Hakenberg and others

    European Association of Urology, 2018

  • Surgical management for localised penile cancer

    M Imamura and others

    Cochrane Database of Systematic Reviews, 2015

  • Current surgical management of penile cancer

    P Sharma and others

    Current Problems in Cancer, 2015. Volume 39

  • Penile cancer diagnosis and treatments

    PE Spiess (Editor)

    Springer, 2016