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Penile Cancer: Diagnosis

How is penile cancer diagnosed?

If your healthcare 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 healthcare provider will need to take a small sample of tissue (biopsy). The type of biopsy the healthcare provider 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 healthcare provider removes all of the abnormal area of skin.

  • Incisional biopsy: The healthcare provider may do this type of biopsy if the abnormal area is larger or has broken through the skin. 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 healthcare provider'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 the skin of your groin. The healthcare provider will then put a thin needle into the lymph node. He or she will remove cells and a few drops of liquid. Sometimes this is done while looking at the node with ultrasound or a CT scan.

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

After the biopsy, your healthcare provider will send the tissue to a pathologist. A pathologist is a healthcare provider 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.

Online Medical Reviewer: Alteri, Rick, MD
Online Medical Reviewer: LoCicero, Richard, MD
Date Last Reviewed: 11/1/2017
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