Scientist currently believe that penile tumors are caused by the cancer-producing effect of secretions that become trapped within the foreskin if they are not washed away on a regular basis. It is not surprising, therefore, that this particular malignancy is extraordinarily common in South and Central America, as well as other Third world countries, where public health and personal hygiene often are lacking. Also, circumcision, a practice that could improve hygiene, is not regularly performed. In the United States, penile cancer is a relatively unusual cancer, probably due to the country's superior sanitary and hygienic conditions along with commonly practiced circumcision. However, scientists are currently studying other causes of penile cancer, particularly the role of human papilloma virus (HPV), which already has strong links to cervical cancer. Antibodies to HPV - 16 a specific type of papilloma virus also implicated in cervical cancer, have been found in many patients with penile cancer. Unfortunately, early diagnosis of penile cancer is often missed because it is so rare in the United States that general physicians and even urologists may only see two or three cancers in a practice lifetime. Also, patients are often reluctant or embarrassed to call attention to their genitalia and may be afraid of surgical procedures or treatment of the penis. But the earlier the diagnosis, the more effective the therapy and the better the chance for cure. If diagnosis is delayed and the disease progresses, therapy may be less successful and more disfiguring. So, it is very critical that any skin erosion, ulcer, sore or irritation be brought to the attention of the physician by the patient and be promptly evaluated. Any discoloration that is noticed on the foreskin, the skin of the shaft of the penis or the surface of the head of the penis should be brought to the attention of the physician by the patient and be promptly evaluated. Chances are good that most such lesions are linked to a bacterial or fungal infection or even an allergic reaction, all of which will respond readily to antibacterial or antifungal ointments and creams. Growths or areas that return or do not heal must be considered malignant until proven otherwise. The appropriate evaluation includes biopsy where the tissue is removed for examination under a microscope. Early detection and identification of penile cancer are very valuable because the treatments that can provide a successful outcome are indeed low risk. Your post-treatment experience will be directly tied to the stage of your cancer when it is diagnosed. Cure is almost certainly ensured when lesions are detected early, but it is less certain as the tumor becomes more advanced.
Until recently, the general consensus was that penile cancer was caused by chemical irritation and there was no concern about transmitting it. But recent data have implicated the HPV in both penile and cervical cancers. There appears to be increased incidence of these cancers in the spouses of people with this sexually transmitted disease. Thus, while penile cancer is not directly transmissible, if you or your partner has HPV, you need to use protection during intercourse, be aware of any lesions, and if you are the woman, have frequent cervical examinations. Not only are efforts to eliminate or minimize the infection important but so are discussions with an urologist or other specialist about its link to penile cancer.
Again, the critical importance of early detection not only ensures a better outcome for the treatment received but also ensures more treatment options with early detection.