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Penile cancer rare, but on the rise in Uganda


Dr. Noleb Mugisha

Kampala, Uganda | THE INDEPENDENT | Doctors at the Uganda Cancer Institute are seeing more male patients suffering from cancer of the penis than before.

Cancer of the penis or penile cancer occurs when the cells on a man’s penis grow out of control. It often starts in the skin cells but works it’s way inside of the organ.

According to doctors at UCI, 10 years ago, they used to treat one patient a year diagnosed with this cancer. However now, they treat as many as 10 men.

Dr. Noleb Mugisha attributes the increase in cases to the HIV pandemic and the increase in circulation of the  Human Papilloma Virus.

Over 60 percent of the men who suffer from this type of cancer are living with HIV. Dr. Mugisha says that men who do not have HIV can also be affected by the cancer.

Dr. Mugisha says they believe many men have this type of cancer but are not aware of it due to  poor health seeking habits among men. Data from UCI indidctaes that only 10 percent of cancer patients in the country receive care. Majority of these are women, which means many men might be sick but do not go for treatment.

According to Dr. Mugisha some of the symptoms of this cancer are a strong pungent smell that patients have. In addition to this, a whitish coating on the penis and swelling at the head of the penis also occur.

Doctors say that cancer of the penis can easily be avoided or cured but due to stigma and ignorance many patients shy away from getting treatment which leads to an increase in cases.

According to Dr. Mugisha, in the last five years, they have been able to successfully treat one patient who even went ahead to have children after.

The most common form of penile cancer in the country is epidermoid carcinoma which starts on the foreskin. Other cancers include sarcoma which start in body tissues and melanomas that start in the cells responsible for giving skin colour. Another type of penile cancer is basal cell carcinoma.

The executive director of UCI, Dr Jackson Orem says due to changes in lifestyle,it is becoming more common to come across rare cancers like those of the penis.

“We are starting to see more cancers that we thought were rare. Cancers like those of the bladder, stomach, anus and even penis were rare but now we see more cases,” he said.

To avoid such cancers, Dr. Mugisha says people need to have active lives that involve exercising, maintaining good intake of fruits and vegetables and carrying out regular cancer checks. He says people should avoid smoking and drinking alcohol as these can lead to cancer of the liver and throat.



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