Chemotherapy uses anticancer drugs to kill cancer cells. The drugs used in chemotherapy attack and kill cells that divide quickly, including cancer cells and some normal cells. How chemotherapy drugs affect those normal cells is based on the person and the amount and types of drugs given.
Chemotherapy for penile cancer can be given either systemically or as a topical treatment. In systemic chemotherapy, your doctor may inject the drug into your vein or give it to you as a pill you can swallow. The drugs travel in your bloodstream, killing cancer cells all throughout your body. Systemic chemotherapy is able to reach cancer that may have spread deeply into your skin or to other parts of your body.
Your doctor may suggest systemic chemotherapy if the cancer has metastasized, which means it has spread to other parts of your body. Chemotherapy may also be used after surgery to try to help prevent the cancer from coming back. In that case it's called adjuvant chemotherapy. In topical chemotherapy, your doctor gives you a cream to apply to the skin of your penis. It can kill cancer cells near the surface of your skin, but cannot reach cancer cells that are deep in your skin or that have spread to other organs. Doctors use topical chemotherapy for very early stage penile cancer. After topical chemotherapy, your doctor may take a biopsy. If cancer is still present, you'll probably have surgery to remove it.