There's more to being a man than having a penis
"There's more to being a man than having a penis." Just one statement from some of the respondents interviewed by researchers from Leeds Metropolitan for Healthtalkonline new module on penile cancer. While prostate cancer is the fourth most common cancer in the UK and there's a wealth of information available, few people know about penile cancer, which sees 400 new cases diagnosed in the UK each year. The real-life accounts, all from people with direct experience of the disease, and gathered by researchers in the Centre for Men's Health at Leeds Met, cover a range of themes from recognising signs and symptoms, the types of surgery, recovery and sex and relationships following surgery.
Dr Peter Branney, Senior Lecturer in Social Psychology at Leeds Metropolitan University who conducted the research explains: "A lot of men have never heard of penile cancer and some are shocked to discover that cancer can develop on the penis. The UK is world leading in the treatment of penile cancer, yet our research shows the symptoms are regularly mistaken for a sexually transmitted disease, which delays treatment. If we talk about penile cancer more widely, then men might be diagnosed faster and be better equipped to cope with both the physical and emotional impact of the condition."
Some of the men interviewed for the research said they hadn't realised it was possible to develop cancer of the penis and many wondered what might have caused it. Being diagnosed with penile cancer had made them consider what it was that made them a man. Several of the respondents said that they felt like they were less of a man and they worried that they would be unable to satisfy their partner sexually. Some were embarrassed and thought that people might notice they had less of a bulge in their trousers or shorts and some felt they couldn't ask women out. The importance of partner support and being able to talk openly about the condition was crucial in how the men felt they were recovering both physically and emotionally.
David who was interviewed for the research thinks that his experience has had only a marginal effect on his sense of masculinity and says there's far more to being a man than having a penis. He says: "I think your sex life changes as you get older anyway and it's probably had a marginal effect. I expect it depends where you start thinking about masculinity in the first place, doesn't it? I think there's far more to being a human being and far more to being a man than just simply being dependent on a penis. That's not to say it's not a very important part of the body obviously, but in terms of how I see myself as a man, as a person, it's had no impact at all."
Primary treatment for penile cancer is surgery, which is often quick and pain free with regular follow ups to check the patient's progress. The standard treatment for penile cancer is to surgically remove the cancer and any lymph nodes that are affected. The larger the cancer, the greater the amount of penile tissue that needs removing, which means that surgery can have implications for sexual activity and going to the toilet. Early diagnosis is extremely important as it can affect the type of surgery and the amount of penile tissue that has to be removed. Nevertheless, the surgery is technically uncomplicated, most men quickly recover good physical health and the chances of cure are high.
Dr Peter Branney, who with colleagues conducted the research at the Centre for Men's Health, continues: "One of the main findings from the research was that although you'd think no-one would want to mention penile cancer, the men who were diagnosed felt it was easier to cope with when it was spoken about. Being open and honest and maintaining a sense of humour despite the difficulties enabled other people to offer help and reduce embarrassment. Particularly for those men who need reconstructive surgery, sharing the situation with family and friends boosted confidence and self-esteem and this was greatly valued in the overall recovery process."
The experiential website - www.healthtalkonline.org - provides a plethora of resources based on interview research carried out by the Health Experiences Research Group, University of Oxford. For this new module, the Research Group collaborated with researchers from Leeds Metropolitan University who interviewed 27 men about their experiences of penile cancer. The real-life accounts, all from people with direct experience of the disease, cover a range of themes from recognising signs and symptoms, the types of surgery, recovery and sex and relationships following surgery.
Rebecca Porta, Chief Executive of Orchid, says: "As the UK's leading charity to focus solely on services and support for people affected by male-specific cancer, we are delighted to support Healthtalkonline's new penile cancer module. This will compliment the work we are doing in leading the development of new ways to inform and support the many patients diagnosed and living with penile cancer every year."
The research for the new section was conducted by Dr Peter Branney and Karl Witty at the Centre for Men's Health, Leeds Metropolitan University, in conjunction with Aberystwyth University and the Health Experiences Research Group, University of Oxford.