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Survival Rate and Life Expectancy in Penile Cancer

Saima Andrabi   by Saima Andrabi, MS, Clinical Biochemistry    Last updated on October 3, 2019,

survival rate in penile cancer

 

What is Penile Cancer?

Penile cancer is a type of cancer that has developed either in or on the penis. In almost all cases of penile cancers, the cancer starts in the skin cells of the penis. Most of the penile cancers develop from the flat skin cells called as squamous cells. The earliest stage of squamous cell cancer in the penis is called carcinoma in situ and usually affects the top layers of skin. Carcinoma in situ if present on the glans is called erythroplasia of Queyrat and if it is present on the shaft, it is called Bowen disease. Although squamous cell cancers can develop anywhere on the penis but most commonly they occur on the foreskin of uncircumsized men or on the glans.

Mostly penile cancers are slow growing and the earlier they are diagnosed the greater is the cure rate. There are some other rare types of penile cancer like melanoma, basal cell carcinoma, adenocarcinoma and sarcoma.

What Causes Penile Cancer?

There are several risk factors for penile cancer. However, having one or more risk factors does not mean a person will get penile cancer. Sometimes, a person has no risk factors and still gets penile cancer. Phimosis, or an unretractable foreskin is one of the major causes of penile cancer. It has been found that circumcision decreases the incidence of penile cancer by preventing the development of phimosis and also the retention of smegma (skin that has been shed along with moisture and oil from skin). Besides this, poor hygiene, chronic retention of smegma, sexually transmitted diseases (such as HPV or human papilloma virus 16 or 18), smoking have been found to increase a man's risk of developing cancer of the penis. Medications like psoralens used in the treatment of psoriasis in men have been found to promote a higher incidence of penile cancer.

What are the Signs of Penile Cancer?

One of the common signs of penile cancer in men is the presence of a lump, mass, lesion or ulcer on the penis. The lesions can be either raised and wart-like or flat. The penile lesion can be sore and inflamed causing itching and burning in the region as well. Generally, penile cancers have been found to affect the head or foreskin of the penis rather than the shaft of the penis. The appearance for penile cancers can vary significantly from a small bump to very large, infected, and aggressive lesions.

How can Penile Cancer be Prevented?

Penile cancers can be prevented by avoiding known risk factors such as smoking, contraction of HPV and HIV. Moreover there are HPV vaccines available for both men and women. It is also important for men to follow proper hygiene. Besides, uncircumcised men should retract the foreskin while cleaning the penis. Although not having a circumcision is a risk factor in penile cancer but studies have not found yet that the circumcision can prevent penile cancer.

Survival Rates in Penile Cancer

Survival rates usually give an idea of what percentage of people with the same type and stage of cancer are still alive in certain duration of time (usually 5 years) after they were diagnosed with the cancer. Survival rates don’t give any idea about how longer a person will live, however they may help in providing a better understanding of how likely the treatment will be successful.

Since the penile cancer is relatively rare, so the accurate survival rates based on the stage of the cancer are usually difficult to determine. Below are given the survival rates for penile cancer, published by the American Cancer Society from statistics and compiled by the National Cancer Institute:

  • The 5-year survival rate is about 85% for cancers that have not spread outside the penis
  • The 5-year survival rate is about 59% for cancers that have spread into nearby areas or lymph nodes
  • The 5-year survival rate is about 11% for cancers that have spread to other parts of the body

However these rates are adjusted to account for men who die of causes other than penile cancer.

What Does the 5-Year Survival Rate Mean?


Survival rates indicate the percentage of men who live for a specific length of time after being diagnosed with cancer. The rates are usually specific to men with a certain type and stage of cancer. Usually the statistics refer to the 5-year survival rate i.e., the percentage of men who are living at least 5 years after the diagnosis of cancer. The 5-year survival rate includes the men who:

  • are disease free
  • have very less or no signs or symptoms of cancer
  • are undergoing treatment for cancer

Since the statistics we have for 5-year rates are based on men diagnosed and initially treated more than five years ago, it is possible that the outlook could be better today. It has been found that the recently diagnosed men often have a better outlook because of improvements in treatment. The survival rates of penile cancer are based on large groups of men. However, they cannot be used to predict what will happen to a particular man. All men are different, so the treatment and response to treatment vary greatly.

Survival Statistics for Penile Cancer

Survival statistics for penile cancer are usually very general estimates and therefore must be interpreted very carefully. Since these statistics are based on the experience of groups of people, therefore they cannot be used to predict a particular person’s chances of survival.

Relative Survival Rates for Penile Cancer

Relative survival rates in penile cancer indicate how likely people with cancer are to survive after their diagnosis when compared to people in the general population who do not have cancer but share similar characteristics like age and sex. It has been found that in Canada, the 5-year relative survival rate for penile cancer is 67%, which means that, on an average, men diagnosed with penile cancer are 67% as likely to live at least 5 years after their diagnosis as compared to the men in the general population.

Survival Rates by Stage in Penile Cancer

The survival rates in penile cancer usually vary with each stage. It has been found that earlier the penile cancer is diagnosed and treated, the better will be the outcome. Moreover early stage penile cancer tends to respond very well to treatment. Besides this the number and the group of lymph nodes affected by penile cancer also play an important role in predicting the survival. Men having cancer in only one lymph node in the groin (inguinal lymph node) have a better chance of survival when compared to men who have cancer in more than one inguinal lymph nodes or men having cancer in a different group of lymph nodes.

Life Expectancy in Penile Cancer

Penile cancer life expectancy is one of the foremost worries of most of the patients surviving from the cancer in their penis. Early and proper diagnosis and treatment can help a person to manage the condition safely and reliably. Fortunately, the disease is not a common form of cancer worldwide and accounts for very less number of cancer-deaths. Therefore, a timely treatment and monitoring of early signs can be very useful for the patients as well as oncologists in improving the penile cancer survival rate.

Penile cancer survival rate and life expectancy are closely related but entirely different concepts. Life expectancy for penile cancer is actually the time period for which a person is expected to stay alive after being diagnosed and cured for the disease. It should be noted that the time of diagnosis is more important for calculating penis cancer life expectancy because in most of the cases of penile cancer, cure depends highly on diagnosis, timing and efficiency.

It should be remembered that penile cancer life expectancy is just an approximate calculation and not a scientific conclusion. Sometimes, a person may live much longer than the predicted expectancy of life while in some cases a person may not be able to survive even the assumed period. Personal habits and way of living play an important role in varying life expectancy of a person in the post-treatment period. Besides this, life expectancy also fluctuates according to geographical locations and work conditions of a person.

Therefore, while determining life expectancy it is extremely important to manage expectations from the patient's point of view because any wrong conclusions may put a psychological impact on the person. Life expectancy for penile cancer can also help in carrying out research and exploring breakthroughs for the disease. It also helps in recommending the most suitable treatment form for a patient and reducing the chances of tumor redevelopment. Life expectancy of penile implants varies from 5 to 20 years based on the past historical data and current available improved implants.