Medically reviewed by Susan Kerrigan, MD and Marianne Madsen
Additions/comments by Urologist Steven N. Gange, MD
Perhaps understandably so, anything having to do with the penis can be a highly sensitive subject for most men. It is an important part of their being, and whether or not the penis is working properly can have a huge effect on a man’s life and ego.
It’s a shame that some men are reluctant to talk about this part of their lives because as with all parts of the body, there are several things that can go wrong with it–and most of them are highly treatable. It’s also important to talk about these things for mental health reasons because it erases the stigma of something being “wrong,” and lets men know that they are far from alone in experiencing these problems. They are also not alone in seeking help to treat these highly solvable problems.
Functions of the Penis
The penis has two primary functions for the male body. One is as a mechanism to help transport urine out of the body. This aspect may be purely functional and may not be so much fun, but it is quite necessary for the body to function properly. The second job of the penis is to transfer sperm into a mate’s body. Many men find this part much more enjoyable for obvious reasons. But what can go wrong with such a seemingly simple organ?
Well, erectile dysfunction, for starters. But did you know that you could have issues with your erection without having E.D.? According to the Urology Care Foundation, it is estimated that about 6 out of every 100 men in the ages between 40 and 70 have something called Peyronie’s disease. Specifically, it is a buildup of plaque on the top part of the penis. This plaque can, in very advanced cases, also contain a build up of calcium which then solidifies so that it looks like another bone. When this build up of plaque happens, it can cause the penis to either bend or curve and create lumps. You may even experience soft or painful erections, which definitely puts a cramp in many men’s styles.
Causes of Peyronie’s Disease
If you have noticed one of these potentially major changes in the function of your penis, you may be wondering why and how this happened. Well, for starters, Peyronie’s disease may be caused by a minor injury to your penis that occurs during strenuous activity that could be anything from a sports injury to vigorous sex. Most of the time when you get an injury, scar tissue forms over it which then will heal into regular skin. Peyronie’s disease is the result of that scar tissue not healing appropriately.
On the other hand, not all men with Peyronie’s disease have experienced trauma to the penis. This factor has led researchers to believe that there are other reasons for it to occur, whether they are genetic (someone with a close family member who had it is more likely to get it himself) or environmental.
Treatment of Peyronie’s Disease
First of all, it’s extremely important to go to your doctor the minute you see something is wrong–or right now, if you’ve noticed something that you’re ignoring. The internet may be a wealth of knowledge, but it is no substitute for the actual treatment plan your doctor will come up with specifically for you. Second, depending on how badly you’ve been affected by the disease, your doctor may suggest certain medications to help treat it. Unfortunately, for most medications, there have not been enough studies done to confirm their effectiveness.
Potassium amino-benzoate (“Potaba”) is part of the vitamin B complex that was shown to help reduce the size of the plaque, though it has not been shown to help treat the curve at all. Many men who are started on this treatment choose to stop it because of its cost and because it can cause stomach problems.
A treatment plan that is a step up from investigating medications and potentially helpful vitamins are injections. The penis is numbed before insertion to reduce any pain that might be felt. One type of injection is called Verapamil, and it is a low cost way to help treat the disease. While it is mostly used to treat high blood pressure, this injection has been shown to treat the actual pain and curving experienced with Peyronie’s disease. Another injection is called interferon, which is a protein that helps control swelling. More testing is needed to prove its effectiveness; however, it has shown promise by helping to slow down the rate which the scar tissue builds and even help break it down. Yet another form of injection used to treat Peyronie’s disease is an injection of collagenase. This is something that is also created naturally in your body already and is what helps to break down certain types of tissues. There have been studies that have proven its effectiveness in treating Peyronie’s disease and has officially been approved by the FDA for men who have more than a 30 degree curve.
Barring the effectiveness of these forms of treatments and depending on the severity of the disease, the last option left may be surgery to help fix the curve. However, your doctor will likely suggest holding off on this option until your plaque and curve have stopped getting worse and you have not had pain for at least nine months. But even with this option, there are two possible types of surgery that could be done.
The first type is a “simple” fix for the part of the penis that is curved. This is done by grafting tissue (either taken from somewhere else on your body, or lab created) into the empty space created by the plaque that was removed. The other type is a bit more complicated and involves a prosthetic device that is inserted into the penis to help straighten it and get it stiff enough for more pleasurable activities. However, if the prosthetic alone doesn’t make it straight enough, the surgeon will then straighten it more by cutting into the plaque and placing a graft over the opening or by molding the plaque against the device to make it firmer.
The hope is that spreading more information about Peyronie’s disease, how common it is, and the various options there are to treat it will make men less embarrassed about acknowledging the problem and prompt them to seek out help.