Radiotherapy for localised penile cancer
Radiotherapy (localised penile cancer)
Radiation therapy is the use of high-energy x-rays to kill cancer cells and these can be directed at cancer from outside of the body (external beam radiotherapy) or from within the body (brachytherapy). Both types of radiotherapy can be used to treat penile cancer which is confined to the penis as an alternative to surgery.
External beam radiotherapy
External beam radiotherapy can also sometimes be used to treat other areas of the body that may have been affected by penile cancer.
Before both of these types of radiotherapy are performed the area to be treated will be thoroughly identified by performing scans such as CT and MRI scans and ink marks applied to the target treatment area.
Men will need to be circumcised (the foreskin surgically removed) prior to radiotherapy for localised penile cancer, to reduce the chance of skin swelling and irritation which may affect the penis as a result of treatment.
This type of treatment can be used to treat penile cancer which is not greater than 4cm in size and can be performed using two possible methods.
Under a general anaesethic radioactive needles are positioned through the penis and small radioactive pellets inserted near to the cancerous areas. The needles will need to stay in place for up to 7 days and men will have to stay in hospital during this time in a room with limited mobility (bed rest). Children and pregnant women will not be allowed to visit them. The needles and the catheter will be removed under a general anesthetic once all the treatment has been given.
To protect the passage of urine from the bladder a urinary catheter will be inserted.
A special plastic mould is made in the shape of the penis. This can be fitted over the penis and small radioactive wires attached to the
penile tissue around the cancerous area. Radiation can then be administered through the wires. This type of treatment can be performed on a daily basis over several days.
External beam radiotherapy
This treatment involves radiation being beamed at cancer by an external machine.
Treatment tends to be given over a six week period in short doses (10-15 minutes). Beams of radiation are directed at the cancer and
the dose of radiotherapy given is controlled by a computer.
Side effects related to radiotherapy treatment
This may be caused by a combination of both treatment and travel. Getting small restful naps or taking a mild sedative medication may help.
Radiotherapy can irritate the sensitive skin around the penis and the blood supply to the penis may be reduced. These symptoms tend to occur 2-3 weeks from starting external beam radiotherapy and 2-3 weeks after brachytherapy.
Vitamin E supplements and topical creams can help the healing process and these may be prescribed by the healthcare team. It is also advisable to keep areas that have been exposed to radiotherapy covered and protected from direct sunlight.
Problems passing urine
Radiotherapy can sometimes cause the tissue of the penis to become thicker and this can sometimes cause a narrowing or ‘stricture’ of the urethra and cause the urinary stream to spray. If this occurs, a minor operation can sometimes be performed to widen the urethra.
Men can also be taught how to widen the urethra using specially designed plastic tubes (urethral dilatation).
Any conditions that make a man need to pass urine more frequently may exacerbate mental anxiety caused by their treatment for penile cancer. If men were experiencing problems such as urinary frequency or trouble passing urine prior to their treatment for penile cancer then it may be worth discussing these symptoms with their specialist healthcare team. This will usually settle in time but if men are experiencing difficulties and it is bothersome to them, there are several types of urinary funnel available which may be useful.
Beambridge Medical (images and prescription codes)
Other funnels including disposable ones can be found on Amazon.co.uk, however these are not available on prescription.
It is also possible to purchase a special key (RADAR Key) which allows anyone with a medical condition which may cause the need to urinate more frequently from Disability Rights
A toilet card can also be obtained which may allow men access to otherwise private amenities such as toilets found in shops etc. Further information can be found here
Reviewed March 2021.Next review 2022.
References available on request.