Penile Cancer

Physical health

The impact of treatment on a man’s physical health will be different for each individual. Effects of penile cancer treatment on physical health are varied and may depend on factors including the type of treatment conducted, the man’s age and his existing health status. For many, but not all men, the key impact of the treatment will be on their use of the toilet (see ‘Using the toilet after penile cancer surgery’) and their sex lives (see ‘Sex & relationships’) both of which are covered in other summaries. This page focuses on the other physical effects that men may experience after being treated for penile cancer.
Several of the men we interviewed talked about treatment having little or no effect on their physical health. For some men we spoke to, it was difficult to disentangle the impact of aging and the reduction of energy and mobility, which commonly comes with getting older, with the effects of the penile cancer treatment.
Some men had current or previous experience of other illnesses including cancer of the bowel and prostate. Other conditions that the men we interviewed shared included heart problems (atrial fibrillation or AF), diabetes and a lung condition (chronic obstructive pulmonary disease or COPD). On some occasions, the men found it difficult to work out whether restrictions in physical ability or feelings of physical illness where caused by the treatment of penile cancer or the impact of other illnesses.
Several men talked about a loss of mobility, being slower, feeling weak or tired after treatment. For some of the men, it was unclear which aspect of treatment was responsible for these effects. Michael, for example, had a penectomy with a skin graft, lymph surgery and radiotherapy and has experienced restricted mobility since this operation. Michael is unsure whether to put this down to the penectomy or the skin graft. Paul had the head of his penis removed and reconstructive surgery. He talked about experiencing difficulty walking and feeling weak after his operation. Other men talked about experiencing tiredness and taking longer to get around.
For a number of the men who had surgery, the pain which they experienced after the surgery was considerably less than they had anticipated before their operation (see ‘Recovery from surgery for penile cancer’). Frank Z said he was amazed at how little discomfort there was associated with the surgery. Jim was surprised that there wasn’t more pain, given the area is quite sensitive. For several men, the surgery to remove lymph nodes was more uncomfortable than the surgery they had on their penis, although this may not be the case for all men. For Tim, early morning erections immediately after the operation were the most painful.
Two men talked about their treatment having an impact on the sensitivity of their penis. While radiotherapy is no longer offered as a treatment, those few men that had it found there were a number of physical effects (see ‘Additional treatments). After his treatment with a drug called ‘Interferon’ and then radiotherapy, John Z talks about his penis becoming extra sensitive. In contrast, Jordan, who underwent a partial penectomy with reconstruction, talked about a loss of sensitivity in his penis.
Of the men who had surgery, several talked about experiencing scarring after their operation. Tom was concerned when his operation scars started to look different. John Z's scars rubbed against his clothes and he used a topical cream to ease this. Jim was very impressed with the neatness of the scars on his penis. 
Infection was a common problem for men who had received treatment. Infection can not only delay the healing process but can cause severe discomfort for the patient. Most infections are easily treated with antibiotics, and if caught early should have little impact on recovery. A few men experienced recurring infection.

Last reviewed July 2017.
Last updated January 2015.


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