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Can I Survive Penile Cancer? What Is My Prognosis?

A prognosis is a statement about the prospect of surviving and recovering from a disease. It may sound hard to ask, “Can I survive this?” But it’s a question most men have when they learn they have penile cancer. Unfortunately, there isn’t an easy answer:

Your chance of recovery depends on these things:

  • The type and location of the cancer

  • The stage of the disease

  • How quickly the cancer is likely to grow and spread

  • Your age

  • Your general health

  • How your cancer responds to treatment

Before discussing your prognosis with you, your doctor will consider all the things that could affect your disease and treatment. To do that, the doctor will look at what researchers have found out over many years about thousands of people with cancer similar to yours. When possible, the doctor will use statistics for groups of people whose situations are most like yours to discuss your prognosis.

If your cancer is likely to respond well to treatment, your doctor will say you have a favorable prognosis. If the cancer is likely to be hard to control, your prognosis may be unfavorable. It is important to keep in mind, though, that a prognosis states what is likely to happen. It is not a prediction of what will happen. No doctor can be absolutely certain about the outcome.

Some people find it easier to cope when they know their prognosis and the statistics for how well a treatment might work. Other people find statistical information confusing and frightening. Or they might think it is too general to be useful. The doctor who is most familiar with your situation is in the best position to discuss your prognosis with you and explain what the statistics may mean for you. At the same time, you should keep in mind that a person’s prognosis may change. A favorable prognosis can change if the cancer progresses. An unfavorable one can change if treatment is successful. The decision to ask about your prognosis is a personal one. It is up to you to decide how much you want to know.

What does the five-year survival rate mean?

Survival rates show the percentage of men who live for a specific length of time after being told they have cancer. The rates are specific to men with a certain type and stage of cancer. Often, statistics refer to the five-year survival rate. That's the percentage of men who are living at least five years after diagnosis. The five-year rate includes men who:

  • Are free of disease

  • Have few or no signs or symptoms of cancer

  • Are being treated for cancer

Because the statistics we have for five-year rates are based on men diagnosed and initially treated more than five years ago, it's possible that the outlook could be better today. Recently diagnosed men often have a better outlook because of improvements in treatment.

Survival rates are based on large groups of men. They cannot be used to predict what will happen to a particular man. No two men are exactly alike, and treatment and responses to treatment vary greatly.

What is the survival rate for penile cancer?

Penile cancer is relatively rare, so accurate survival rates based on the stage of the cancer are difficult to determine. The following are survival rates for penile cancer, published by the American Cancer Society from statistics compiled by the National Cancer Institute:

  • For cancers that have not spread outside the penis, the five-year survival rate is about 85 percent.

  • For cancers that have spread into nearby areas or lymph nodes, the five-year survival rate is about 59 percent.

  • For cancers that have spread to other parts of the body, the five-year survival rate is about 11 percent.

These rates are adjusted to account for men who die of causes other than penile cancer. 

When penile cancer is detected early, its treatment is simple, less likely to result in significant side effects or complications, and most effective.