Treatment for penile cancer

Treatments for penile cancer includes 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. Different treatments can be used, including surgery, radiotherapy or chemotherapy. You may have a combination of treatments.

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

Some treatments for penile cancer can affect your fertility. If you are worried about this, it is important to talk with your doctor before you start treatment.

We have more information about fertility after treatment.

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

Tis, means the cancer cells are only in the top layer of skin. Some doctors call Tis pre-cancerous or non-invasive, 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 one or more the following treatments:

  • Surgery

    Surgery to remove the foreskin (circumcision) can be done under local or general anaesthetic. You may be able to go home on the same day.

  • Laser treatment

    Heat (laser treatment) may be used to destroy the cancer cells.

  • Cryotherapy

    It may be possible to remove Tis by freezing the cancer 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. After about 1 or 2 weeks, the scab usually drops off.

  • 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 how to use it safely.

  • 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 cell.

Treating smaller cancers

Depending on their position, small early cancers can be treated with minor surgery. Laser treatment can also be used to destroy the cancer cells.

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

Treating larger cancers

Larger cancers of the penis may need surgery to remove them. Radiotherapy can sometimes be used instead of surgery. Chemotherapy can sometimes be given before or after surgery.

You may have one or more of the following treatments:

  • 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 able to have erections after surgery that preserves the penis. Sometimes, surgery is needed to remove part, or all, of the penis. It may be possible to have surgery to reconstruct the penis later.

  • Radiotherapy

    Radiotherapy uses high-energy rays to destroy cancer cells. It may sometimes be used instead of surgery. It may be given to lymph nodes in the groin after surgery.

    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 the side effects of radiotherapy.

  • Chemotherapy

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

  • 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.

Content under review

Due to the pandemic, there have been delays in us updating this information as quickly as we would have wanted. Our team is working hard to put this right.

The language we use

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

We try to make sure our information is as clear as possible. We use plain English, avoid jargon, explain any medical words, use illustrations to explain text, and make sure important points are highlighted clearly.

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. Our aims are for our information to be as clear and relevant as possible for everyone.

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