Penile cancer is diagnosed with a biopsy. This is when a small sample of tissue is removed from the penis and looked at under a microscope. If the cells look like cancer cells, they will be “staged.” The TNM staging system is the system most often used. T stands for the main (primary) tumor (how far it has grown within the penis or nearby organs). N stands for spread to nearby lymph nodes (bean-sized groups of immune system cells). M is for metastasis (spread) to other organs.
The cells are also given a “grade”. This is a measure of how abnormal the cells look. The grade is often a number, from 1 to 4. The higher the number, the more abnormal the cells look. Higher-grade cancers tend to grow and spread more quickly than lower-grade cancers.
If your doctor believes that cancer has spread to nearby lymph nodes, other tests will be done. A lymph node biopsy will help determine the cancer’s stage and grade. If cancer is thought to spread to other parts of the body, imaging tests (such as a CT scan, or MRI) will be done.
If tests suggest cancer, prompt care and regular follow-up will be very important.