A soldier has told how he needed half of his penis surgically removed after doctors misdiagnosed his cancer three times.
Gavin Brooks, 45, of Crewe in Cheshire, has now been warned he might only have a year left to live.
The father-of-two, who calls his penis a ‘Frankenweiner’, wants to undergo last-ditch therapy abroad ‘to stay around as long as possible’, as chemotherapy on the NHS has so far not worked.
Father-of-two Gavin Brooks, 45, says he has been left with a ‘Frankenweiner’ after the blunder left his manhood mutilated by surgeons
But despite having an operation to remove the cancerous tumour from his penis, he was given the crushing news the cancer had spread and he may only have a year to live (Pictured: Mr Brooks with his daughter Camren, 15, and son Jorje, 10
Mr Brooks said: ‘I hope I can get some sort of treatment abroad that can help make the cancer smaller and make my lifespan longer so I can stay around as long as possible.
‘My son Jorje says he’s going to lift the World Cup one day and I want to be around for that.’
Mr Brooks, an army warrant officer, went to military doctors three times in 2021 after he experienced a tight ring of skin around his foreskin and later a lesion on the tip of his penis.
His doctor thought that he had a genital wart, but Mr Brooks was not convinced.
He believed it to be lichen sclerosus, a condition that causes patchy, discoloured, hard skin on the penis.
Mr Brooks said: ‘The best way I can describe it like a ring of tissue or hard skin within the foreskin.
‘When I’d retract the foreskin, I would have to pull it over the head of the penis.
‘The skin that connects the foreskin to the penis broke and would bleed and cause pain when I would go for a wee, I knew this wasn’t normal and that I had to get it checked out.
Now Mr Brooks (pictured in his military uniform), who hopes to raise money to fund experimental treatment abroad, wants to warn other men of the little-known disease and encourage them to check their parts
Mr Brooks (pictured undergoing treatment), of Crewe, Cheshire, went to army doctors three times in 2021 after he experienced a tight ring of skin around his foreskin and later a lesion on the tip of his penis
‘After three weeks, I went to the army doctors and I suggested it could be lichen sclerosus.
‘The army doctors thought it was a wart but I didn’t know how I’d got one as I’d been married for 20 years and only had one sexual partner in that time, so I didn’t think they were right.’
Four weeks later when it hadn’t cleared up, he went back to the same doctor who still believed it to be a wart.
Mr Brooks sought help again from the same medical centre but was this time seen by a different doctor, who thought it might be thrush and gave him cream.
Frustrated that his symptoms weren’t improving, he went to a sexual health clinic, where he was eventually referred to a dermatologist, who took a biopsy from his penis.
When the result came back, he was given the news he had penile cancer.
This type of cancer is very rare, with 700 men diagnosed each year in the UK. That amounts to two cases each day.
Mr Brooks was being sent for an operation in January this year where he had part of his penis removed.
He added: ‘They lifted my penis up and cut it in half and took a skin graft from my leg to make a penis head, but it is flat with a hole in.
Mr Brooks (pictured with his 10-year-old son Jorje) attended his medical centre for a third time and was seen by a different GP, who thought it might be thrush, so he was given cream
Mr Brooks (pictured in the back row, first on the left) was being sent for an operation in January this year where he had part of his penis removed
‘I’ve nicknamed it the “Frankenweiner”.
‘When I woke up in hospital I was so scared at how much of my penis looked to have been removed as it had a dressing on it and a catheter fitted you couldn’t make out the full extent until all of that was removed.’
Despite the operation, the cancer had spread and he needed further surgery in April to remove lymph nodes in his groin. He started intense chemotherapy in June.
The first round of chemo didn’t work and the cancer has since spread to other parts of his body.
He is now undergoing a second bout of chemo with radiotherapy included, too.
Mr Brooks is now seeking other treatments not currently offered on the NHS, such as immunotherapy and proton beam therapy, which are widely used abroad.
Mr Brooks added: ‘I’ve spent 24 years in the army and a great amount of that time as a fitness training instructor and I use exercise to get rid of stress, now I have to be sat in a wheelchair to watch my little boy play football.
‘I can’t walk long distances and I now use a wheelchair more than I walk.’
Despite the operation, the cancer had spread and Mr Brooks (pictured with his 15-year-old daughter Camren) needed further surgery in April to remove lymph nodes in his groin and intense chemotherapy in June
Mr Brooks (pictured in his military uniform) is now seeking other treatments that are not offered on the NHS, including Immunotherapy, Proton Beam therapy and Dendritic cell treatment, which are widely used in Germany, Gibraltar and Japan in the advanced cancer stages
Half of penis cancers are diagnosed late and once the cancer spreads, the chances of saving the organ become much lower. A quarter of patients die within five years of being diagnosed.
Signs of the cancer will typically first start at the top of the penis as either raised patches or white raised spots.
At this stage surgery can be carried out to remove the cancerous tissue, leaving the penis mainly intact. But the longer the disease is left, the more invasive the surgery becomes.
He added: ‘If I had been diagnosed earlier, I may have only ended up requiring a circumcision that could have prevented the rest of the operations and chemotherapy.
‘That’s why I need to raise as much awareness for this rare and unknown cancer, so more time and research can be spent into the treatment and diagnosis of this deadly disease before it’s too late.’
To donate to Mr Brooks’ fundraising efforts click here.
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What is penile cancer?
Penile cancer is rare and accounts for less than one per cent of all cancer cases in both the UK and the US.
This type of cancer is caused when cells in the penis divide and grow in an uncontrolled and most commonly starts under the foreskin of uncircumcised men or on the head or tip of the penis.
It is most common in men over the age of 50 and the exact cause is not known, but human papillomavirus (HPV) and smoking are thought to be risk factors.
What are the symptoms of penile cancer?
You should see your GP if you have any of the following symptoms:
- A growth or sore on your penis
- A foul smelling discharge
- Bleeding from your penis
- A change in the colour of your penis or foreskin
- Difficulty in drawing back your foreskin (phimosis)
- A rash on your penis
Other rarer symptoms of penile cancer can include tiredness, a lump in your groin, tummy pain, bone pain and weight loss.
These symptoms may not mean you have penile cancer but it is important to see your doctor as they could be as a result of a number of medical conditions.
How is penile cancer diagnosed?
If your GP suspects penile cancer you will be referred for a biopsy as this is the main way to diagnose the disease.
A biopsy is where a specialist takes a sample of tissue to be tested. This happens under general anaesthetic and is often day case treatment.
How is penile cancer treated?
Penile cancer is most treatable when found early.
How your cancer is treated depends on the size and type of cancer, where its, if it has spread and your age and general health.
If found early, penile cancer is often treated with chemotherapy cream and laser therapy.
Later-stage penile cancer treatment will often involve surgery, chemotherapy and radiotherapy.