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Penile cancer is on the rise, according to a British study. Would you recognize its symptoms — and would you go to the doctor, or be too embarrassed?

Penile cancer rates have gone up by a shocking 20 percent over the last three decades, a new study has concluded. Would you recognize the symptoms?

The findings were made by a team of British researchers from the University College Hospital (London), Queen Mary University of London, London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine, the Office of National Statistics, and the Christie Hospital (Manchester). Funded by cancer charities and published in the peer-reviewed journal Cancer Causes Control, the study tracked both the incidence of penile cancer and the mortality rate associated with it. 

What The Study Found

Penile cancer rates shot up by 20 percent in the period between 1979 to 2009, the study found. The mortality rate has, fortunately, decreased by a similar rate of 19 percent. The chance of surviving for a year went up from 76.2 percent to 87.1 percent, while the five-year survival rate increased from 61.4 percent to 70.2 percent.

This study reminds us that penile cancer — though rare — is something to be taken seriously. The British tabloid the Daily Mail was the first news outlet to pick up the news of the study, and its report warns that men with penile cancer could mistakenly believe they have a sexually transmitted disease, and fail to seek treatment because of it. 

Though the Daily Mail is hardly the best place to look for medical advice, the British National Health Service (NHS) assures the general public that the tabloid's report and accompanying advice were correct in a statement on its website. Men who have suspicious penile symptoms should always seek prompt medical treatment rather than being too embarrassed to even see a doctor.

Making an appointment is the best way to ensure proper treatment, and if symptoms do point to penile cancer, seeing a doctor right after symptoms show up could even be life-saving. 

Penile Cancer Facts

So, what should you know about penile cancer — and when should you see a doctor? Here are some basic facts all men (and their partners!) should be aware of. 

There are around 500 new cases of penile cancer a year in the United Kingdom, according to the Orchid male cancer charity, which partly funded the study. Though most of those cases occur in men over 50, younger men can certainly get it too. The most common spots for penile cancer are under the foreskin in uncircumcised men, and on the glans (head) of the penis.

The fact that penile cancer tends to be a slow-growing cancer contributes to the high chances of survival, if the disease is caught in its early stages. 

The Human Papilloma Virus (HPV), which also causes genital warts, is one of the risk factors for penile cancer. Smoking, a weakened immune system, and Bowen's Disease are other risk factors. Circumcision reduces the risk of penile cancer, on the other hand. It is possible that the study's findings are due to an actual increase in the penile cancer rate, possibly caused by more smoking and STDs, but it's also possible that doctors have simply been diagnosing more cases successfully. 

Symptoms To Be Aware Of

That won't matter to you much if you are worried you could have penile cancer, of course. What are the signs you should look out for, then?

See your doctor if you have any of the following, which could also be due to conditions other than penile cancer:

  • A lump or ulcer on the penis that won't heal, but doesn't hurt
  • Bleeding
  • Flat growths of a blue/brown color
  • A rash under the foreskin
  • Strangely odored discharge from the penis
  • A change in skin color around the genitals
  • Swollen lymph nodes in the groin area

Men who notice "something" is going on with their penis need medical treatment, whether they have an STD or cancer. The news that penile cancer is on the rise is something every man should take to heart. Do self-examinations on a regular basis and go to the doctor if you are at all worried.

If you have an STD, diagnosis and treatment will prevent complications and the possibility of spreading the disease to someone else. If you do have cancer, early diagnosis will give you the best possible chance.