Penile Cancer: Diagnosis

How is penile cancer diagnosed?

If your health care provider thinks you might have penile cancer, you will need certain exams and tests to be sure. Diagnosing penile cancer starts with your healthcare provider asking you questions. He or she will ask your health history, your symptoms, risk factors, and family history of disease. Your healthcare provider will also give you a physical exam.

The physical exam includes checking your penis, testicles, groin, and belly (abdomen).

What is a biopsy?

Your doctor will need to take a small sample of tissue (biopsy). The type of biopsy the doctor does depends on what he or she sees on your genitals. You usually will get a local pain medicine when the biopsy is done.

Types of biopsies

There are two main types of biopsies for penile cancer.

Surgical biopsy

  • Excisional biopsy. For this type of biopsy, the doctor removes all of the abnormal area of skin.

  • Incisional biopsy: The doctor may do this type of biopsy if the abnormal area is larger than about 1 centimeter (about 3/8 inch) across. This biopsy removes only part of the area.

Lymph node biopsy

This test is done to see if the cancer has spread to lymph nodes in the groin. It is done in one of two ways:

  • Fine needle aspiration (FNA). This biopsy can be done in a doctor's office or clinic. FNA is not used to take a tissue sample from the penis. It takes a sample from nearby lymph nodes. During FNA, you may get local pain medicine injected into your skin of your groin. The doctor will then put a thin needle into the lymph node for about 10 seconds. He or she will remove cells and a few drops of liquid.

  • Surgery. The doctor may use surgery to look at the nearby lymph nodes. He or she may remove tissue for a biopsy.

After the biopsy, your doctor will send the tissue to a pathologist. A pathologist is a specialist who will check the tissue under a microscope for cancer cells.

Getting your tests results

When your healthcare provider has the results of your biopsy, he or she will contact you with the results. Your provider will talk with you about other tests you may need if penile cancer is found. Make sure you understand the results and what follow up you need.