There are several different types of penile cancer. Most are actually considered cancers of the skin, although some develop in the blood vessels, sweat glands or connective tissues. To determine a tumor’s specific type, a pathologist will examine a small sample of the cells underneath a microscope.
Tumor types play a significant role in influencing treatment. For instance, squamous cell carcinomas rarely respond to radiation therapy, while other types of penile cancer may respond quite well to it.
The main types of penile cancer include:
Squamous cell carcinomas – These develop in the small, flat skin cells known as squamous cells. They can occur anywhere in the skin of the penis, but are most common in the foreskin or the head (glans) of the organ. They are typically slow growing, and account for more than 95 percent of all penile cancers. Subtypes include verrucous carcinoma and Bowen’s disease. These cancers can also be referred to as carcinoma in situ (CIS) or penile intraepithelial neoplasia (PIN) if they have not spread to any tissues below the surface of the skin.
Melanomas – These develop in the cells that give the skin its pigment. These cancers are less common than squamous cell carcinomas, but are typically very quick to spread.
Basal cell carcinomas – These develop in the cells in the deepest layer of the skin. They are slow growing and highly unlikely to spread.
Adenocarcinomas – These develop in the cells of the sweat glands. Some are categorized as a form of extramammary Paget’s disease.
Sarcomas – These develop in the blood vessels or connective tissues, such as the muscles, fat and cartilage. These tend to grow very quickly if left untreated.
As one of the largest cancer centers in the nation based on patient volume, Moffitt Cancer Center treats thousands of patients each year. Our oncologists have designed individualized treatment plans for all types of penile cancer, including the less common forms.