Penile Cancer: Stages

What does stage of cancer mean?

The stage of a cancer is how much and how far the cancer has spread in your body. Your healthcare provider uses exams and tests to find out the size of the cancer and where it is. He or she can also see if the cancer has grown into nearby areas, and if it has spread to other parts of your body. The stage of a cancer is one of the most important things to know when deciding how to treat the cancer.

What are the stages of penile cancer?

The International Union Against Cancer and the American Joint Committee on Cancer have developed a standard system of describing how much a cancer has grown. It is known as the TNM system.

In the TNM system:

  • The T says how far the main tumor has grown.

  • The N says whether the cancer has spread to lymph nodes in the area of your original tumor.

  • The M says whether your cancer has spread (metastasized) to other organs in the body.

Numbers after each of these letters provide more details about each piece of information. 

Once a man's T, N, M, and S factors have been determined, a doctor puts this information together in what is called stage grouping. Stage grouping is used to find out your overall cancer stage. It is listed as numbers. Stage I is the earliest stage. Stage III is the most advanced stage. The letter after the numeral further tells the cancer. For example, Stage IIC.

  • Stage 0. Stage 0 is a cancer that is only on the surface of the skin. It is also known as carcinoma in situ.

  • Stage I. For this stage, cancer cells have grown into the tissue just below the surface of the skin. It has not grown into blood vessels or lymph nodes. 

  • Stage II. In this stage, cancer cells have spread to the deeper tissues of the penis. But they have not spread to lymph nodes or distant parts of the body. Or the cancer has grown into tissue just below the surface of the skin and is either high-grade. Or it has spread into the blood or lymph system, but is not found in lymph nodes or distant organs. Or the cancer has grown into the urethra, but has not spread to lymph nodes or distant organs. 

  • Stage III. In this stage, cancer cells have grown into the urethra, the deeper tissues of the penis, or both. It may have spread to one or more lymph nodes, but it has not spread to distant organs. 

  • Stage IV. In this stage, cancer cells have spread to nearby structures such as the prostate, to the lymph nodes deep in the groin, to other parts of the body, or some combination of these.

  • Recurrent. Recurrent cancer means that the cancer has come back after it has been treated.

The grade of a cancer means how abnormal the cancer cells look under a microscope.

Doctors consider the grade, stage, and your health when recommending a treatment plan. They also look at your feelings and preferences. Staging information helps doctors compare your own case with other men who have penile cancer. Based on studies done on groups of men in similar stages of the disease, a doctor can make some predictions about how the cancer may behave and how different treatments may work.

Talking with your healthcare provider

Once your cancer is staged, your healthcare provider will talk with you about what the stage means for your treatment. Make sure to ask any questions or talk about your concerns.