The cells of the penis sometimes undergo changes that make their way to abnormal growth or behavior. These changes can cause non-cancerous conditions (such asgenital warts) or cancerous.
Penile cancer is a malignant tumor that originates in any of the tissues of the penis: skin, nerves, smooth muscleor blood vessels. Cancer of the penis is a cancerous growth that tends to spread rapidly to other parts of the body to form new malignant tumor (metastasis).
Penile cancer is considered as one of sexually transmitted cancers after liver cancer (caused sometimes by hepatitis B), Kaposi’s sarcoma (often found in AIDSpatients), cervical cancer (which can be caused by HPV).
The cancer usually develops in the flat, thin cells called squamous cells. These cells are found in theskin and the head of the penis(glans). These types of cancer are called epidermoid carcinoma of the penis. The tumor can appear on any part of the penis, but most often occurs on theforeskin(prepuce)or the glans.
Other rare types of penile cancers may also occur: adenocarcinoma, melanoma or basal cell carcinoma of the penis, for example.
Penile Cancer Causes and Risk Factors
Any substance which increases possibility of developing cancer is a risk factor that should be avoided as long as it is possible. As the case of many malignant tumors, there is no known single cause ofpenile cancer. Most cancers are due to many risk factors. However, some men diagnosed with the disease have no identifiable risk factor.
The following factors have been shown to increase the risk of being diagnosed with penile cancer:
Age – Although penile cancer can occur at any age, the risk of having it increases with age. Thiscancer affects mostly men aged over 60 years.
Human papillomavirus (HPV) – it is shown a link between infection with human papillomavirus(HPV) and cancer of the penis. HPV is easily transmitted when there is skin on skin contact with anyinfected area of the body. The virus spreads mainly through sexual contact. Men with penile canceroften report having had genital warts.
Men with HPV virus, especially HPV 16 and HPV 18, are at higher risk to be likely diagnosed with penile cancer. However, it is not clearly known the role that these viruses may have in the development of the disease.
Phimosis – This condition can cause the foreskin of uncircumcised men to tighten and unable to be fully retracted over the glans penis. This disorder makes cleaning the penis more difficult and could lead to infections or chronic inflammation. A man with phimosis is more likely to be diagnosed withpenile cancer.
Poor Genital Hygiene – poor genital hygiene may increase the chance of a man to have penile cancer. In uncircumcised men, secretions or cheesy sebaceous mattermay accumulate under the foreskin causing a condition called smegma, irritation and chronic inflammation of the penis. Some studies suggest that smegma may contain substances that cause cancer, but more conclusive evidences are needed.
Being Uncircumcised – When a man is circumcised, the foreskin of the penis is removed causing the penis to stay clean easier. The incidence of this cancer appears to be lower in men who were circumcised when they were infants or children. Circumcision practiced in adulthood did not seem to offer protection against the cancer.
Weakened Immune System – Weakening of the immune system may increase the risk of penile cancer and different types of other cancers, the fact that weakened immune system can reduce the body’s ability to defend against infections. The immune system can be severely weakened due to the following reasons (and others):
- Immunosuppressantdrugs: medications that suppress the immune system and are used toprevent rejection after organ transplantation
- Certain Conditions: HIV/AIDS have higher risk of developing many types of cancer
- Stress : being constantly under stress.
Smoking – Cigarette smoking can increase the risk of penile cancer. This risk appears to be highest among men who smoke lot cigarettes daily and for many years. Researchers believe that chemicals incigarettes that cause cancer can damage the DNA of cells of the penis and thus increase the risk of development of malignancy in its tissue.
Psoriasis Treatment – Psoriasis is a skin condition which changes the life cycle of skin cells .Treatment may include taking the drug called Psoralen (also called psoralene) followed by exposure of the skin of the affected area to ultraviolet light (PUVA therapy). Men who received this treatmentare more likely to be diagnosed with penile cancer.