Treatment for penile cancer

Treatments for penile cancer may include surgery, radiotherapy and chemotherapy.

About treatment for penile cancer

Treatment of penile cancer (cancer of the penis) will depend on the stage and grade of the cancer. It will also depend on your general health.

Treatment options may include surgery, radiotherapy or chemotherapy. You may have a combination of treatments. Clinical trials are also available for patients with penile cancer.

Penile cancer is treated at specialist hospitals or clinics, by doctors who are experts in this type of cancer. This means you may have to travel further away from your local hospital for treatment.

Some treatments for penile cancer can affect your ability to make someone pregnant. This is called your fertility. Other treatments may affect your sex life. If you are worried about these possible effects, it is important to talk with your doctor before you start treatment.

We have more information about cancer and fertility and about cancer and sex.

We understand that having treatment can be a difficult time for people. We're here to support you. If you want to talk, you can:

Treating Tis (or CIS)

Tis (tumour in situ) or CIS (carcinoma in situ) means the cancer cells are only in the top layer of skin. Some doctors call Tis pre-cancerous or non-invasive. This is because the cells have not spread below the surface of the skin.

There are different types of treatment for Tis. Your doctor will talk to you about the treatment they think is most suitable for your situation.

You may have 1 or more of the following treatments:

  • Surgery

    Surgery to remove the foreskin can be done under local or general anaesthetic. This surgery is called circumcision. You may be able to go home on the same day.

  • Laser treatment

    Laser therapy uses heat to destroy the cancer cells.

    Your surgeon uses a powerful beam of light to burn away abnormal cells. But they do not go too deep into the tissue. You usually have this treatment in the hospital outpatient department under a general anaesthetic.

    It may take 2 to 3 months for your penis to heal completely after treatment.

  • Cryotherapy

    It may be possible to remove Tis by freezing the abnormal cells. This is called cryotherapy. Your doctor uses a probe with liquid nitrogen to freeze the affected area. Afterwards the area usually forms a blister, which will dry and form a scab. The scab usually drops off after about 1 or 2 weeks.

  • Chemotherapy cream

    Tis can be treated with cream containing a chemotherapy drug called fluorouracil (5FU). You apply the cream to the affected area on the penis. This does not cause the side effects people usually have with chemotherapy into a vein. Your nurse will show you how to apply the cream and use it safely.

    The cream may irritate the skin in the area or make it sore. But it will not cause side effects in other parts of the body.

  • Immunotherapy cream

    A type of cream called imiquimod (Aldara®) can be used to treat Tis. It works by stimulating your immune system to destroy the cancer cells. Your doctor, nurse or a pharmacist will give you the cream to use at home. They will explain how to put it on and how often to use it. It is important to follow the advice they give you. Treatment is usually applied for 4 to 6 weeks.

    Some people feel a burning or tender feeling in the area being treated. This is most common at the start of treatment. You may have some redness or crusting of the skin during the treatment. But there should be no permanent scarring. If the skin reaction is very strong, your doctor may give you a steroid cream to help. It is normal for redness and some crusting to continue for about 2 weeks after the treatment has finished.

    Occasionally, the immunotherapy cream may cause shivers and other flu-like symptoms. If this happens, tell your doctor or specialist nurse. They may advise you to stop using it.

Treating smaller cancers

Depending on their position, small early cancers can be treated with minor surgery.

We have more information about surgery to remove a small cancer.

Treating larger cancers

Larger cancers of the penis usually need surgery to remove them. You may sometimes have chemotherapy before or after surgery. If the cancer has spread to other parts of the body, radiotherapy may be used to control symptoms.

  • Surgery

    Surgery is the main treatment for cancers of the penis that are larger. Surgical techniques have improved over time. It is usually possible to keep the appearance of the penis. 

    You may still be able to have erections after surgery that preserves the penis. Sometimes, part, or all, of the penis needs to be removed with surgery. It may be possible to have surgery to reconstruct the penis later.

  • Chemotherapy

    Chemotherapy uses anti-cancer drugs to destroy cancer cells. It is sometimes given before surgery, to shrink the tumour and make it easier to remove. It can also be given after surgery to reduce the risk of the cancer coming back. Or it can be used to control the cancer if it has spread to other parts of the body.

    Chemotherapy can cause side effects. The side effects you get will depend on the chemotherapy drugs you are having. Different drugs cause different side effects.

    We have more information about possible side effects of chemotherapy.

  • Radiotherapy

    Radiotherapy uses high-energy rays to destroy cancer cells. 

    Not everyone who has penile cancer will have radiotherapy. Sometimes, it is used instead of chemotherapy or surgery. This is usually if the cancer has spread to other parts of the body. Radiotherapy may be given after surgery to remove lymph nodes in the groin. This is to reduce the risk of cancer coming back in this area. 

    Radiotherapy can cause side effects. The skin on the penis and groin may redden or get darker. It may become dry, flaky and itchy. Towards the end of treatment, your skin may become moist and sore. Your radiographer or nurse will talk to you about how to care for your skin. The hair around the genital area may fall out. The penis and scrotum area may become swollen, but this should improve.

    We have more information about possible side effects of radiotherapy.

  • Chemoradiation

    You may have chemotherapy at the same time as radiotherapy to make it work better. This is called chemoradiation.

About our information

  • Reviewers

    This information has been written, revised and edited by Macmillan Cancer Support’s Cancer Information Development team. It has been reviewed by expert medical and health professionals and people living with cancer. It has been approved by Senior Medical Editor, Dr Ursula McGovern, Consultant Medical Oncologist.

    Our cancer information has been awarded the PIF TICK. Created by the Patient Information Forum, this quality mark shows we meet PIF’s 10 criteria for trustworthy health information.

The language we use

We want everyone affected by cancer to feel our information is written for them.

We want our information to be as clear as possible. To do this, we try to:

  • use plain English
  • explain medical words
  • use short sentences
  • use illustrations to explain text
  • structure the information clearly
  • make sure important points are clear.

We use gender-inclusive language and talk to our readers as ‘you’ so that everyone feels included. Where clinically necessary we use the terms ‘men’ and ‘women’ or ‘male’ and ‘female’. For example, we do so when talking about parts of the body or mentioning statistics or research about who is affected.

You can read more about how we produce our information here.

Date reviewed

Reviewed: 01 August 2022
Next review: 01 August 2025
Trusted Information Creator - Patient Information Forum
Trusted Information Creator - Patient Information Forum

Our cancer information meets the PIF TICK quality mark.

This means it is easy to use, up-to-date and based on the latest evidence. Learn more about how we produce our information.