Penile Cancer Treatment

At Penn Medicine's Abramson Cancer Center, we provide a comprehensive cancer program that offers men with cancer of the penis more treatment options.

Our cancer specialists are part of a multidisciplinary team of experts that include surgeons, interventional radiologists, medical and radiation oncologists, pathologists, nurse practitioners, and support specialists such as social workers and psychologists. They work together — under one roof — to create treatment plans specific to your unique needs and diagnosis.

Treatment options for penile cancer include:

Chemotherapy and Biologic Therapies for Penile Cancer

Penn medical oncologists are members of a cancer team whose approach to cancer is to treat the entire individual — not just the disease.

Medical oncologists are physicians who specialize in the diagnosis and treatment of cancer. Penn oncologists work closely with radiation and surgical oncologists to treat cancer patients with medical therapies such as chemotherapy, hormone therapy, immunotherapy and bone marrow and stem cell transplants. Our medical oncologists are part of a multidisciplinary team of cancer specialists that work with all other disciplines in a patient's care team to create a treatment plan for patients with penile cancer.

Chemotherapy

Our medical oncologists are experts in the use of chemotherapy to treat penile cancer. Chemotherapy uses drugs to attack cancer cells, slowing or stopping their ability to grow and multiply. Early stage penile cancer may be treated topically with a chemotherapy cream.

Chemotherapy may also be given:

  • Orally: taking pills or capsules by mouth
  • Intravenously (IV): injecting medication into a vein
  • Intramuscularly (IM): injecting medication into a muscle
  • Subcutaneously: injecting medication under the skin

Chemotherapy is not a "one-size-fits-all" cancer treatment. The wide range of cancer-fighting drugs attack different types of cancer cells at varying stages of cell development. Our medical oncologists are experts at determining which drug or combination of drugs are the most effective in treating the various types of cancer.

Immunotherapy

Immunotherapy is designed to repair, stimulate, or enhance the immune system's responses. The body's immune system helps to prevent disease, but it can also play a role in preventing cancer from developing or spreading. The goal of immunotherapy is to enhance the body's natural defenses and its ability to fight cancer.

Immunotherapy often has fewer side effects than conventional cancer treatments because it uses the body's own immune system to:

  • Target specific cancer cells, thereby potentially avoiding damage to normal cells
  • Make cancer cells easier for the immune system to recognize and destroy
  • Prevent or slow tumor growth and spread of cancer cells

Clinical Trials for Penile Cancer

Today, more and more people are surviving cancer. Clinical trials benefit patients with access to breakthrough therapies and treatments. These new advances in cancer treatment are occurring every day at Penn Medicine, giving patients hope that even greater discoveries lie ahead. Through clinical trials:

  • Diagnosing cancer has become more precise.
  • Radiation and surgical techniques have advanced.
  • Medications are more successful.
  • Combinations of medical, surgical and radiation therapy are improving treatment effectiveness and enhancing outcomes.
  • Strategies to address the late effects of cancer and its treatment are improving quality of life.

Radiation Therapy for Penile Cancer

Radiation therapy uses high-energy X-rays to kill cancer cells.

Penn Radiation Oncology uses the latest equipment and technology available to treat penile cancer. Our radiation oncologists are recognized leaders in techniques that target radiation precisely to the treatment area while sparing normal tissue.

At Penn, men with penile cancer have access to new and advanced treatment options and ongoing clinical trials in radiation therapy including proton therapy. As part of our commitment to advancing cancer care in patients, radiation oncologists are also researching how radiation treatment affects the quality of life for cancer patients.

Image-Guided Radiation Therapy (IGRT)

Image-guided radiation therapy (IGRT) uses frequent imaging during a course of radiation therapy to improve the precision and accuracy of the delivery of the radiation treatment.

In IGRT, the linear accelerators (machines that deliver radiation) are equipped with imaging technology that take pictures of the tumor immediately before and during the time radiation is delivered. Specialized computer software compares these images of the tumor to the images taken during the simulation to establish the treatment plan. Necessary adjustments can then be made to the patient's position and/or the radiation beams to more precisely target radiation at the cancer and avoid exposure to the healthy surrounding tissue.

Intensity-Modulated Radiation Therapy (IMRT)

Radiation oncologists at Penn Medicine use intensity-modulated radiation therapy (IMRT) to treat penile cancer. This advanced mode of high-precision radiotherapy utilizes computer-controlled linear accelerators to deliver precise radiation doses to tumors or specific areas within the tumors.

Radiation therapy, including IMRT, stops cancer cells from dividing and growing, thus slowing or stopping tumor growth. In many cases, radiation therapy is capable of killing all of the cancer cells.

Using 3-D computed tomography (CT) images in conjunction with computerized dose calculations, IMRT allows for the radiation dose to conform more precisely to the three-dimensional shape of the tumor by controlling, or modulating the intensity of the radiation beam in multiple small volumes. The therapy allows higher radiation doses to be focused on regions within the tumor while minimizing the dose to surrounding normal critical structures.

Proton Therapy

Penn Medicine's Roberts Proton Therapy Center is the largest and most advanced facility in the world for this precise form of cancer radiation. At Penn, our patients have access to one of the most sophisticated weapons against cancer, seamlessly integrated with the full range of oncology services available at the Abramson Cancer Center.

Proton therapy is external beam radiotherapy in which protons are directed at a tumor. The radiation dose that is given through protons is very precise, and limits the exposure of normal tissues. This allows the radiation dose delivered to the tumor to be increased beyond conventional radiation. The result is a better chance for curing cancer with fewer harmful side effects.

Proton therapy, like all forms of radiation therapy, works by aiming the energized particles, in this case protons, onto the target tumor. These particles damage the DNA of cells, ultimately causing their death. Unlike X-rays, protons can be manipulated to release most of their energy only when they reach their target. With more energy reaching the cancerous cells, more damage is administered by each burst of radiation.

Surgery for Penile Cancer

Surgery is an essential treatment for patients with penile cancer. Even if surgery removes all the cancer that can be seen at the time of the surgery, some men may be given chemotherapy after surgery to kill any remaining cancer cells.

Different surgical approaches to penile cancer depend on the type and stage of penile cancer.

Mohs Surgery

Mohs surgery is a procedure in which the tumor is cut from the skin in layers. Layers of the tumor are removed and examined under a microscope. Layers are removed until there is no cancer seen under the microscope.

Cyberknife ®

Cyberknife is a type of high-dose radiation that is delivered to the tumor via a robot that can move around the patient to precisely target the tumor.

Cryosurgery

Cryosurgery freezes cancer cells to destroy abnormal tissues.

Circumcision

In a circumcision, all or part of the penis foreskin is removed.

Wide Local Excision

Wide local excision surgery removes the cancer and some normal tissue around it.

Penectomy

This surgery removes part or all of the penis. If part of the penis is removed, it is a partial penectomy. If all of the penis is removed, it is a total penectomy.

Other Treatments for Penile Cancer

In addition to standard treatments and clinical trials, you may wish to add additional therapies and treatments such as massage therapy, acupuncture and art therapy. These therapies do not have curative intent and are designed to complement standard treatments, not take their place.

Integrative Oncology Services

At Penn Medicine, integrative oncology services can supplement traditional cancer treatments such as chemotherapy, surgery and radiation therapy. While conventional medicine plays a critical role in eradicating cancer, integrative medicine and wellness programs offer you ways to enhance the quality of your life, minimize or reduce the side effects of cancer and cancer treatment, and promote healing and recovery.

Our cancer specialists are knowledgeable and supportive of complementary cancer treatments. The cancer team works with you and your family to integrate these supportive programs into the overall care plan, while ensuring your health and safety.

The Abramson Cancer Center's range of integrative supportive services is designed to help you cope with the cancer experience and improve your overall sense of well-being.

Services include:

Joan Karnell Supportive Care Services offers an extensive variety of supportive care programs for patients and families, from diagnosis through survivorship. These programs are available at no cost to the patients treated at Pennsylvania Hospital, and some are open to patients treated elsewhere. These services include social work counseling, nutrition counseling, psychological counseling and spiritual counseling.

The Cancer Appetite and Rehabilitation Clinic focuses on patients with loss of appetite and weight.

The Supportive Oncology Clinic helps to manage cancer-related symptoms. Integrative support programs include:

Support groups and educational programs are available at Abramson Cancer Center throughout the year.

Palliative Care

Palliative care provides medical and non-medical interventions to ease the symptoms of cancer and its treatment. Palliative care includes physical, emotional and spiritual care that can enhance the quality of life for cancer patients.

Palliative care can be used to complement traditional cancer therapies, or can be used when curative therapies are no longer an option to treat symptoms and improve quality of life.

Palliative care is an approach to patient care that can be integrated with curative therapies at any point from diagnosis to survivorship or end-of-life care.

Palliative care services include palliative chemotherapy, radiation therapy and surgery as well as psychological counseling, art therapy and support groups for patients and families. The goals of palliative care are to enhance the quality of life for cancer patients and their families, and provide emotional and spiritual support to enhance personal growth.

Palliative care services are offered at Pennsylvania Hospital, and at the Hospital of the University of Pennsylvania.

Penn Home Care and Hospice Services

Penn Medicine offers a full range of “at home” health care services, including specialized therapies and medications, for patients with cancer and cancer-related conditions.