Penile cancer

Having tests

Penile cancer

Having tests

Not all symptoms are caused by cancer. Your GP or specialist will send you for tests to check what is causing your symptoms.

Your doctors should explain why you are having the tests and what they involve.

What you need to know

Reasons for tests

Your GP will examine you and send you for tests before you see a specialist. These initial tests are to see if your symptoms are caused by cancer or by something else.

If you do have a cancer, the specialist you see will probably send you for tests to find out more about it. This includes finding out the type of cells the cancer started in and whether it has spread.

Tests for penile cancer

Initial tests for penile cancer may include:

  • a physical examination – including the penis, glans of penis, scrotum and groin area
  • blood tests
  • biopsy of the area of concern on the penis

Further tests may be required to see how far the cancer has grown and spread in the body. This is known as the stage of the cancer.

Tests may include:

  • chest X-ray
  • CT scan of the abdomen and pelvis
  • MRI of the penis and pelvis
  • lymph node biopsy in the groin area, usually under CT or ultrasound guidance
  • bone scan.

Biopsy for penile cancer

A biopsy is when a doctor removes a small piece of tissue that looks abnormal, and a pathologist looks at this under a microscope to see if it is a cancer.

Different types of biopsies can be done on the abnormal area on the penis. Your doctor will determine the best type depending on the location and type of abnormality.

Types of biopsy include:

  • Incisional biopsy – a small part of the growth or abnormal area or skin is removed for testing. This can be done with a local anaesthetic in the doctor’s clinic or in a day surgery.
  • Excisional biopsy – the entire growth or abnormal area is removed. This is usually done under a general anaesthetic but may sometimes be done with a local anaesthetic. It is generally used when the area to be removed is small.

Biopsies may also be taken from lymph nodes in the groin, but this is only after a cancer of the penis has been confirmed. The types of biopsy include:

  • Fine needle aspiration or core biopsy – to remove a small sample of tissue from an enlarged lymph node usually with the assistance or ultrasound or CT scan. Local anaesthetic is used to numb the area.
  • Surgical biopsy – to remove one or more lymph nodes. This may include sentinel node biopsy.

What to ask or talk about

Preparing for tests

Going for tests can make some people nervous, but knowing what to expect can help.

Your GP or specialist should tell you why you need each test and what it involves. Use our checklists to help you know what to ask.

Sometimes you need to contact the place where you are having the test for more information. This can include how to prepare for the test, how much it will cost and what you will get back from Medicare and your private health fund.

Ask how long it will take before you hear the results of the test.

Checklists

Use our checklists to find helpful tips or questions to ask.

Next steps

Getting test results

It is normal to feel anxious when you are waiting for test results. 

Your GP or specialist should tell you when the results will be ready and how you will find out about them. Usually you need to make an appointment to get the results.

It is a good idea to take someone with you when you go for this appointment.

Where to get help

There are people you can talk to for more information or support.

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