Penile cancer refers to a malignant growth on the skin or in the tissues of the penis. 95 percent of penile cancers are squamous cell carcinomas. Some other types of penile cancer include Merkel cell carcinoma, melanoma and small cell carcinoma.
If you observe signs and symptoms of penile cancer, you must visit the doctor, who will make you undergo an exam and may order further tests. Here are some ways in which penile cancer gets diagnosed:
To make an accurate diagnosis, your doctor will have to take a complete medical history so as to get details about all your symptoms and other possible risk factors that you may have. Your doctor will also take a look at your genital area to look for signs of penile cancer or other health problems. Penile lesions tend to affect the skin on the surface of the penis. This makes it easier for a doctor to just look closely at the penis and tell whether the lesions are cancerous or not.
If the symptoms or physical exam suggest that you have penile cancer, you will be required to go through medical tests. These tests include imaging tests as well as biopsy.
Biopsy is required to make accurate diagnosis of cancer. In this procedure, a small piece of tissue from the abnormal area of the penis is cut out and sent for pathological review. The pathologist will look at the tissue under a microscope to see if there are any cancer cells. The results of the biopsy are usually available in a couple of days, though they may take longer in certain cases.
The type of biopsy that is used depends on the nature of the abnormality.
Excisional biopsy: in this type of biopsy, the entire lesion is taken off. This type of biopsy tends to be more commonly used if the abnormal area is just about 1cm or less. If the abnormal area is limited to the foreskin, the doctor may suggest circumcision to remove the lesion completely. The biopsies tend to be done in the hospital or at an outpatient surgical center. The doctor may use a numbing medicine or general anesthesia during the procedure.
Incisional biopsy: in this type of biopsy, only a particular part of an abnormal tissue is removed. This type of biopsy is often done only for those lesions that are larger, ulcerated or those that appear to be growing deeply into the tissue.
Lymph node biopsy: this is recommended for patients in whom cancer cells have invaded deep within the penis. This type of cancer helps to determine the extent of the cancer. The lymph nodes may be checked either with the use of fine needle aspiration or surgery to remove them.
Imaging tests can use x-rays, sound waves or magnetic fields to create pictures of the inside of your body. If your doctor suspects that the cancer has advanced or spread to other parts of the body, he or she may suggest other tests.
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