How Penile Cancer Impacts Sexual Function and Health-Related Quality of Life

How Penile Cancer Impacts Sexual Function and Health-Related Quality of Life

A cancer diagnosis of any kind can be very distressing for an individual, and the repercussions of such a diagnosis can have a significant impact on all aspects of a person’s life. What’s more, although cancer treatments can prevent the cancer from spreading and possibly eliminate it altogether, they often have negative short- and long-term consequences for patients. Patients who are aware of the possible side effects before undergoing treatment may be better equipped to manage them with the support of primary care physicians, oncologists, mental health specialists, and other health care professionals.

Penile cancer and its treatment options have obvious implications for a person’s sexual health. Previous research has shown that this condition can also compromise a patient’s physical, mental, and social health, but less is known about the extent of these impacts. 

To gain a better understanding of the effects of penile cancer surgery on a person’s health-related quality of life, the authors of a recent Journal of Sexual Medicine study sent a Patient Reported Outcomes (PRO) questionnaire to 107 people who had undergone surgery for penile cancer in two Finnish university hospitals between 2009 to 2019.

The researchers designed the PRO questionnaire to address self-esteem, sexual function, erections, change in sexual function, and overall health-related quality of life through a combination of validated, self-administered measurement tools.

They used a validated tool called the 15D to assess the patients’ health-related quality of life. The 15D is based on the World Health Organization’s 15 dimensions of health and contains items related to mobility, vision, hearing, breathing, sleeping, eating, speech, excretion, usual activities, mental function, discomfort and symptoms, depression, distress, vitality, and sexual activity. 

Sixty-eight of the 107 patients (64%) who were asked to participate responded with a completed questionnaire. In comparing the 15D scores of the study participants to the age-standardized average of the Finnish population, the researchers determined that the average health-related quality of life of penile cancer patients was significantly lower than that of the general population.

In particular, they found that low scores in overall sexual function, erectile function, and changes in sexual function were associated with lower overall health-related quality of life. Lack of sexual activity was identified as the key deficit that had the most profound effect on penile cancer patients’ well-being.

On the other hand, having a high education level, being employed, and living in an urban area seemed to contribute to higher 15D scores among the study participants. Interestingly, the severity of the penile cancer and the type of surgical approach used did not seem to have much effect on the respondents’ overall wellness.

The findings of this study underscore the importance of supporting penile cancer patients with their mental, social, and sexual health, in addition to providing cancer treatment. Fortunately, sexual medicine experts who specialize in oncology are well positioned to help these patients and lessen the negative sexual side effects of cancer and its treatment.


  • Harju, E., Pakarainen, T., Vasarainen, H., Tornava, M., Helminen, M., Perttila, I., & Kaipia, A. (2021). Health-Related Quality of Life, Self-esteem and Sexual Functioning Among Patients Operated for Penile Cancer – A Cross-sectional Study. The Journal of Sexual Medicine, 18(9), 1524-1531.

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