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Treatment options for penile cancer

A team of doctors and other professionals discuss the best treatment and care for you. They are called a multidisciplinary team (MDT).

The treatment you have depends on:

  • where your cancer is
  • how big it is and whether it has spread (the stage)
  • the type of cancer
  • how abnormal the cells look under a microscope (the grade)
  • your general health and level of fitness

Your doctor will talk to you about your treatment, its benefits and the possible side effects.

Treatment overview

The main treatments are:

  • surgery
  • radiotherapy
  • chemotherapy
  • chemoradiotherapy Open a glossary item

You have one or more of these treatments depending on the stage of your cancer.

Treatment by stage

These are some treatment options for each number stage of penile cancer.

Stage 0 cancer, or carcinoma in situ (CIS)

There are various treatments to treat penile CIS. These aim to keep the penis looking and working normally. 

Treatments you may have include:

  • chemotherapy creams such as fluorouracil (5FU) or a cream called imiquimod that uses the immune system to fight cancer
  • laser therapy
  • cryotherapy
  • glans resurfacing surgery where the top layers of tissue from the glans or tip of the penis are removed and then covered with a skin graft

Stage 1

Surgery is the main treatment for stage 1 penile cancer. You might have surgery alone or a combination of other treatments.

You might have removal of the foreskin (circumcision) Ii the cancer is only in the foreskin.

You might have the following treatments if your cancer is elsewhere on the penis :

  • removal of the cancer and a surrounding area of tissue (wide excision)
  • removal of part of the penis (partial penectomy)
  • radiotherapy to the penis
  • laser treatment

Stage 2

Surgery is the main treatment for stage 2 penile cancer. You usually have removal of part of the penis (partial penectomy) or removal of the whole penis (penectomy).

You might also have radiotherapy. Some people have radiotherapy first and then surgery if some cancer cells remain afterwards. 

Your doctor might check the lymph nodes Open a glossary item in your groin with a test called sentinel lymph node biopsy to see if cancer cells have spread there. Or your surgeon might remove the lymph nodes. 

Stage 3

For this stage of cancer, you usually need to have surgery to remove part of the penis or the whole penis. Your surgeon will try to avoid the need to remove all of the penis, but this may not be possible for everyone. Your healthcare team will explain your operation and what this involves. And there is help and support available. 

Some people have chemotherapy, or chemotherapy with radiotherapy, before surgery.

Lymph nodes in the groin 

You also have treatment for the lymph nodes in the groin. You might have the nodes removed with surgery (lymphadenectomy). Or you may have radiotherapy to the lymph nodes in the groin. If you have surgery, you might have radiotherapy afterwards. 

If the lymph nodes are very large you might have chemotherapy (with or without radiotherapy). 

Stage 4

Stage 4 penile cancer means that the cancer has spread to other parts of the body.

Cancer in nearby tissues

You usually have surgery.

Some people have chemotherapy (sometimes with radiotherapy) before surgery to shrink the tumour. Your surgeon will remove the lymph nodes in your groin (inguinal nodes) on both sides.

Afterwards you might also have radiotherapy to that area, unless you had it before surgery.

Cancer beyond nearby lymph nodes or in pelvic lymph nodes

You usually have surgery to remove the whole penis and the lymph nodes in the groin on both sides. They might remove the lymph nodes inside the pelvis as well.

You might have radiotherapy to the lymph node areas. Some people also have chemotherapy.

Cancer in distant organs or tissues

Treatment aims to control the cancer and maintain a good quality of life.

You might have surgery to remove as much of the cancer in the penis as possible. Or you might have radiotherapy to shrink the cancer. 

You might have surgery or radiotherapy (sometimes with chemotherapy) to treat lymph nodes close to the penis.

Radiotherapy may also help to treat areas of cancer in other parts of the body, such as the bones, brain or spinal cord. Chemotherapy can help to treat cancer that has spread to the lungs or liver. 

If the cancer comes back (recurrent cancer)

Treatment depends on where the cancer comes back and which treatment you had before.

  • For cancers that come back in the penis, you might need further surgery to remove the cancer cells, which may be followed by radiotherapy.
  • For cancers that come back in the lymph nodes, you might have surgery to remove the nodes, radiotherapy or chemotherapy.
  • For cancers that come back in other parts of the body, you might have chemotherapy or radiotherapy.

Clinical trials

Your doctor might ask if you’d like to take part in a clinical trial. Doctors and researchers do trials to make existing treatments better and develop new treatments.

Information and support

This cancer affects a deeply personal and private part of your body. A few people prefer not to know about their operation, or other treatment, in advance. But for most men, it may help you to cope better if you understand exactly what is going to happen. It is important to feel supported.

There should be information available for you to take home with you if you want it. Ask your surgeon or specialist nurse for a booklet or printed web pages that you can read through. This will help you to work out what questions you need to ask next time you go to the hospital.

We have information about living with penile cancer, which includes resources and information about organisations that offer support.

For support you can call our nurse freephone helpline on 0808 800 4040. They are available from Monday to Friday, 9am to 5pm. Or you can send them a question online.

Last reviewed: 
11 Jan 2021
Next review due: 
11 Jan 2024
  • American Joint Committee on Cancer (AJCC) Manual (8th edition)

    S Edge and others (editors)

    Springer, 2017

  • Guidelines on Penile Cancer
    OW Hakenberg and others
    European Association of Urology (EAU), 2018

  • Cancer Principles and Practice of Oncology (11th Edition)

    VT DeVita, TS Lawrence and SA Rosenberg

    Wolters Kluwer, 2019

  • Penile carcinoma: ESMO clinical practice guidelines

    HN Van Poppel and others

    Annals of Oncology, 2013. Volume 24, Supplement 6