HEALTH INSIGHTS

Penile Cancer: Stages

November 20, 2017

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 healthcare provider 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 and is considered non-invasive at this stage.

  • Stage I. For this stage, cancer cells have grown into the tissue just below the surface of the skin, without growing into blood or lymph vessels. The cancer cells look a lot like normal cells under a microscope. 

  • Stage II. In this stage, cancer cells have grown only into the tissue just below the surface of the skin. But the cells look more abnormal (high grade) or have invaded the blood or lymph vessels. Or the cancer has grown deeper into the penis, possibly into the urethra. The cancer has not spread to nearby lymph nodes or to distant organs. 

  • Stage III. In this stage, the main tumor is still within the penis. But cancer cells have spread to one or more lymph nodes. It has not spread to distant organs. 

  • Stage IV. In this stage, cancer cells have spread to nearby structures such as the prostate. Or it has spread to lymph nodes in the pelvis, or from lymph nodes in the groin to nearby tissues. It may have also spread to distant organs.

  • 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.

Healthcare providers consider the grade, stage, and your health when recommending a treatment plan. They also look at your feelings and preferences. Staging information helps healthcare providers 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 healthcare provider 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. 

Updated:  

November 20, 2017

Sources:  

Staging of Penile Cancer. UpToDate., TNM Staging System for Carcinoma of the Penis. UpToDate.

Reviewed By:  

Alteri, Rick, MD,LoCicero, Richard, MD