Medications for penile cancer typically include chemotherapy drugs, which work by combating cancer cells in the body.

Penile cancer is rare, yet it is a significant health concern that requires prompt and effective treatment.

It’s typically treated with a combination of surgical interventions, radiation therapy, and chemotherapy medications such as cisplatin, bleomycin, and 5-fluorouracil. Targeted therapies and immunotherapies have also shown promise in improving treatment outcomes and may provide additional options for people with penile cancer.

Penile cancer is a rare type of cancer that affects the tissues of the penis. It typically starts in the skin cells of the penis and can spread to other parts of the organ and nearby lymph nodes if left untreated.

It’s more commonly seen in older males and those with certain risk factors such as:

Research from 2022 suggests penile cancer had a global incidence rate of 0.8 per 100,000 people, based on data from 2020. A significant proportion of cases (56.3%) were reported in Asia.

Penile cancer symptoms

The symptoms of penile cancer may vary. Common signs to watch for include:

  • changes in the color or texture of the skin on the penis
  • formation of lumps or growths
  • persistent sores or ulcers that do not heal
  • bleeding or discharge
  • pain or discomfort in the penis
  • swelling or thickening of the foreskin
  • enlarged lymph nodes in the groin area

Medications used for penile cancer typically include chemotherapy drugs such as cisplatin, bleomycin sulfate, and 5-fluorouracil.

These medications work by targeting and killing cancer cells, either by interfering with their DNA replication or by blocking their ability to divide and grow. Chemotherapy is often used in combination with other treatments like surgery or radiation therapy to improve outcomes.

In a 2019 study involving 19 men with advanced penile cancer, researchers evaluated the effectiveness of combination chemotherapy using the neoadjuvant docetaxel, cisplatin, and ifosfamide regimen.

Results showed that after treatment, 12 participants had a partial response, 5 had stable disease, and 2 had progressive disease. Those who responded well to chemotherapy underwent surgical procedures, while those who didn’t respond received radiation therapy.

Overall, the participants who responded to oral chemotherapy had significantly improved progression-free survival, which refers to the length of time without cancer progressing or getting worse.

They also experienced an improved overall survival rate, which refers to the length of time until death from any cause, compared with those who didn’t respond to the chemotherapy medications.

Side effects of penile cancer chemotherapy drugs

Specific drugs used for penile cancer may have the following side effects:

  • Cisplatin: kidney damage, hearing loss, nerve damage, nausea or vomiting, decreased blood cell production, allergic reactions
  • Bleomycin: lung damage
  • 5-fluorouracil: decreased blood cell production, digestive system side effects, a skin reaction on hands and feet called hand-foot syndrome, skin irritation
  • Docetaxel: decreased white blood cell count, nerve damage in extremities, alopecia (hair loss), fluid retention, fatigue
  • Ifosfamide: bladder inflammation with bleeding, decreased blood cell production, kidney damage, nerve damage, nausea or vomiting

Targeted therapies for penile cancer are specialized medications that target certain molecules or pathways involved in cancer growth. They work by blocking specific enzymes or proteins that play a role in tumor development while minimizing harm to healthy cells.

Some targeted therapy and immunotherapy drugs used for penile cancer include:

  • mTOR inhibitors: Medications such as temsirolimus (Torisel) and Afinator (everolimus) block, or inhibit, the activity of the mammalian target of rapamycin (mTOR), a protein involved in cell growth.
  • EGFR inhibitors: Epidermal growth factor receptor (EGFR) inhibitors like cetuximab (Erbitux) and panitumumab (Vectibix) can block the activity of EGFR, which is often overexpressed in cancer cells, contributing to their growth.

Immunotherapy drugs for penile cancer, such as Ketruda (pembrolizumab) and Opdivo (nivolumab), boost the body’s immune system to better recognize and fight cancer cells.

They work by blocking specific signals that cancer cells use to evade the immune system, allowing the immune system to target and destroy the cancer cells more effectively.

The treatment of penile cancer may involve various approaches, depending on the stage and extent of the condition.

Treatment options for penile cancer may include:

  • Surgery: Surgical removal of the tumor is the primary treatment for early stage penile cancer. Options include circumcision, partial or total removal of part or all of the penis (called a penectomy), and removal of nearby lymph nodes.
  • Radiation therapy: High-energy X-rays or other radiation sources are used to kill cancer cells and shrink tumors.
  • Chemotherapy: This involves the use of anticancer drugs to kill cancer cells throughout the body. Chemotherapy may be used in advanced cases of penile cancer or if the cancer has spread to other parts of the body.
  • Targeted therapy: Targeted drugs are designed to specifically focus on certain atypical structures or mutations in cancer cells, blocking their growth or causing their death. Targeted therapy is a newer approach and may be used in specific cases of penile cancer.

What is the best treatment for penile cancer?

The best treatment for penile cancer depends on several factors, including:

  • the stage of the cancer
  • the size and location of the tumor
  • your overall health

First-line treatment often involves a variety of approaches, including surgery, radiation therapy, or platinum-based chemotherapy.

Of all people who receive a diagnosis of penile cancer, about 90% will survive for 1 year or more after diagnosis and about 75% will survive for 5 years or more after diagnosis, according to Cancer Research UK.

Penile cancer is a rare form of cancer that affects the tissues of the penis. It typically starts in the cells of the skin or lining of the penis and can potentially spread to nearby lymph nodes and other parts of the body.

Medications used for penile cancer include chemotherapy drugs, targeted therapies, and supportive medications to manage symptoms and side effects.

Improved understanding of the condition and the development of targeted therapies show promise for better outlook and enhanced quality of life in individuals with penile cancer.