Human papillomavirus (HPV) that causes cervical cancer in women can give rise penis cancer in men too.
HPV, which is a sexually transmitted virus identified as the causative organism behind cancer of the cervix in women is leading to at least half of the cancer occurring on the penis of men, says a study conducted by Spanish researchers Dr. Silvia de Sanjose and colleagues.
Dr Silvia’s team found that 46.9 percent of cancerous growth (tumours) occurred in the penile region were associated with HPV on reviewing several cases of penile cancer reported in clinical studies between 1986 and 2008.
These researchers from the Cancer Epidemiology Research Program at the Catalan Institute of Oncology in Barcelona, evaluated details of 1,466 penile cancers. The prevalence of HPV in those cases was 46.9 percent, ranging from 40.7 percent prevalence in South America to 57.6 percent in North America.
Most of the tumours in the penile cancer were caused by HPV strains 16 and 18, the two types that most commonly cause cervical cancer.
There are more than a hundred types of HPV. The researchers found that HPV16 was the most common among the cases in the studies, accounting for 61.5 percent of cancers. The next most frequent type was HPV18, which was detected in 13.2 percent of cases.
Every year approximately 7,000 cases of penile cancer could be prevented by eradicating HPV16 and 18, Dr Silvia’s team opined.
An global study involving more than 17 countries is currently in progress, gathering and evaluating a large number of penile cancer samples for obtaining new data to assess the contribution of other HPV types and multiple HPV infection.
“Systematic international studies are ongoing, they will probably help in reducing uncertainty and provide new evidence on the involvement of HPV in penile carcinomas,” the researchers conclude.
Incidence of the cancer of the penis is as high as 10 percent in parts of Africa and Asia. No statistical data is available with regard to the occurrence of penis cancer in India. In Europe and North America, penis cancer accounts for less than 1 percent of adult male cancers. Worldwide, there are more than 26,000 new cases every year.
Cancer of the penis can occur anywhere along the penile shaft, but most are on the foreskin or head (glans). It is usually a slow-growing cancer and is curable if discovered early.Nearly all penile malignancies are cancers of the skin.
Some penile cancers are melanomas, which appear as blue-brown flat growths and tend to spread more rapidly and more widely. Occasionally, the deep tissues of the penis develop cancer, typically sarcomas.
The tumor spreads gradually becoming larger in the area of the skin where it first develops. Ultimately, it spreads to deep tissues inside the body of the penis and to lymph nodes in the groin or pelvis.
When the cancer is in the penis itself (local) and involves no more than a few nearby inguinal lymph nodes, it can be cured, but cure rates fall rapidly once it spreads to the pelvic lymph nodes.
There is no preventive vaccine available against penis cancer. However, it is reported that the cervical cancer vaccines Gardasil and Cervarix which target HPV, are also likely to be effective in the fight against penile cancer.
Currently, Merck & Co’s Gardasil and GlaxoSmithKline’s Cervarix are both used widely to immunise girls against HPV infection, which can lead to cancer of the cervix.
Merck, in a recent study, has come up with the evidence to prove that Gardasil can be effective in cancer of the penis as well. Merck’s clinical trial data reported last November showed that Gardasil was effective in preventing lesions caused by the virus in men.