The occurrence of cancer around the world is receiving increased attention by the medical establishment and the community. Numerous charities, universities, and non-profit organizations expend vast amounts of money and research to eliminate this disease in all of its forms. Unfortunately, not all types of cancer receive the same amount of attention in the media spotlight. Whether it is due to embarrassment, ignorance, or fear, conversations about cancers involving the sexual reproduction systems are not as freely discussed in the United States or any other societies.
While penile cancer is rare in the United States, it accounts for approximately 10% of cancers in African and South American men (Huether, McCance, Brashers, and Rote, 2017). A lack of social understanding, as well as the fear and ignorance that accompany diseases associated with sexual subjects, make delays a compounding problem. A specific diagnosis of penile cancer generally comes after a patient has noted a tumor or lesion. Further diagnosis, if it is not delayed, is done through an examination of the size, location, and fixation of the lesion. A biopsy is then performed along with imaging to determine if any metastasis has occurred in the surrounding lymph nodes. Treatment of this condition is usually completed with surgery although multimodal chemotherapy options are also being studied.
Vaginal or cervical cancer is often discovered by females who experience vaginal bleeding or discomfort. These symptoms, again if not delayed, likely are followed by a physical including a bimanual pelvic examination and a Pap test. Additional testing for suspected cancerous growth includes an HPV test, colposcopy, and biopsy test to look for abnormal cellular growth or signs of cancer. Lastly, imaging, including MRI scans, computerized tomography, and positron emission tomography may be employed to identify and plan for the treatment of abnormal cellular growths. Treatment for cancer in the female reproductive organs is similar to that of men as surgery and chemotherapy, including radiation is often employed.
Another similarity among men and women developing penile or cervical/vulvar cancer is the acquisition of the Human Papilloma Virus (HPV). Douglawi and Masterson (2019) note that nearly 40% of cases in France have been linked to this virus, which is most often acquired through unprotected sexual contact. Abramowitz et al. (2018) indicate an incidence of 7.5 per 100,000 women in the United States. Recent campaigns to vaccinate young adults, teens, and those in early adulthood has shown positive results in preventing transmission of this disease Joura, et al. (2019) agree that proper vaccination combined with screening can reduce recurrent or subsequent HPV disease transmission.
A difference in the ability to recognize the presence of cancer includes visibility to the patient. Male sexual organs present an additional chance to catch the presence of a lesion by existing outside the body. Men that use good hygiene and self-examination practices are more likely to note a sore or lump on the penis than a female who must contend with pelvic pain or vaginal bleeding as a warning sign.
Many of the same behavioral factors that cause cancer in other areas of the body are believed to be linked to the development of cancer within the reproductive organs. Factors such as smoking, poor personal hygiene, and HPV infection from unprotected sexual contact are associated with higher instances of penile or cervical/vulvar cancer (Emilio, Luigi, Riccardo, and Carlo, 2019). Additional factors such as diet and physical activity levels, remain a modifiable risk that can be adjusted with the appropriate education and effort.
Continued education of low-risk areas, as well as increased education of high-risk areas in Africa and South America, is the best way to reduce these debilitating illnesses. Information about the risk factors and best practices for maintaining a healthy lifestyle allow uneducated populations to realize access to treatment. The most effective avenue of treatment will include vaccines for males and females, to prevent acquiring HPV and information that stresses a healthier lifestyle, including physical activity and a low-fat diet.
Abramowitz, L., Lacau Saint Guily, J., Moyal-Barracco, M., Bergeron, C., Borne, H., Dahlab, A., Bresse, X., Uhart, M., Cancalon, C., Catella, L., and Bénard, S. (2018). Epidemiological and economic burden of potentially HPV-related cancers in France. Plos One, 13(9), e0202564. doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0202564
Emilio, S., Luigi, V., Riccardo, B., & Carlo, G. (2019). Lifestyle in urology: Cancer. Urologia, 86(3), 105–114. doi:10.1177/0391560319846012
Douglawi, A., & Masterson, T. A. (2019). Penile cancer epidemiology and risk factors: a contemporary review. Current Opinion In Urology, 29(2), 145–149. doi:10.1097/MOU.0000000000000581
Joura, E., Kyrgiou, M., Bosch, F., Kesic, V., Niemenen, P., Redman, C. W., & Gultekin, M. (2019). Human papillomavirus vaccination: The ESGO–EFC position paper of the European society of Gynaecologic Oncology and the European Federation for colposcopy. European Journal of Cancer, 116, 21–26. doi:10.1016/j.ejca.2019.04.032