What Is Peyronie’s Disease?
Peyronie’s Disease, which affects up to 9% of men6, is characterized by the development of a fibrotic plaque (scar tissue) or hard bump of the outer layer of the erection chambers in the penis. This can cause pain, erectile dysfunction and even penile curvature. Recent studies show that Peyronie’s Disease will spontaneously resolve itself in only 13% of men7. However, there are many treatment options. While going through evaluation and treatment it is important to remember that no matter what, if you are adequately motivated, you will be able to get an erection.
The exact cause of Peyronie’s Disease is unknown, but most experts believe that repetitive trauma to the erect penis during sexual activity causes inflammation within the penile tissue. This inflammation will develop into a fibrous plaque in some men. Pain is the most common symptom of the disease at the early stages. In the later stages, the pain will disappear but erectile dysfunction may occur. The most common long term problem is penile curvature. This may be modest or severe. The curvature may not interfere with intercourse at all, may limit positions where intercourse is comfortable (for both partners), or may make intercourse impossible.The sexual problems that result can disrupt a couple’s emotional as well as physical relationship.
Many men will notice an indentation of their penis where the plaque is located. This may destabilize the penis, and make it bend during intercourse. The penis may not be as rigid past the indentation or curvature. In some men, the plaque goes all of the way around the penis, and they will notice an “hour glass” effect, where it looks like there is an indented ring around the whole penis.
DIAGNOSING Peyronie’s Disease
The diagnosis is easy to make. If you develop a lump in the penis, usually, but not always associated with pain, erection issues, and penile curvature (or any combination of the three) you have Peyronie’s Disease.
Before beginning treatment, your specialist will take a very thorough history. When did it start? Did you have a particular incident where you injured your penis? (The most common cause is hitting up against the pubic bone while thrusting.) Do you have curvature of the penis? Is it progressing, or has it been stable? If stable, how long has it been stable? Do you still have pain, either with or without an erection? Is it getting better?
When you are erect, besides a curve, do have an hour-glass appearance to the penis? Does it hinge when you try to penetrate? Is your erection less rigid, past the start of your curvature?
Have you developed some erectile dysfunction, in terms of getting and maintaining an erection, in addition to the curvature? How much pain are you having, and is the pain itself getting in the way of your having and maintaining an erection?
It is important to understand how much it has affected you and your partner, if you have one. (Many patients without a partner appropriately desire treatment, as the Peyronie’s Disease will affect their ability to function sexually with a partner in the future). Have the changes interfered with sexual relations? Are there certain positions you can’t use? Can you penetrate at all? Does it hurt you or your partner when you do penetrate? Is the curvature psychologically devastating, even if it has not really affected your sex life mechanically?
The specialist will also ask you about any disorders that are commonly associated with Peyronie’s Disease. The most common of these is Dupytren’s Contracture (which is scar tissue of the tendons of the hand that limit movement and cause pain.)
He will also ask you to quantify the curvature in terms of how many degrees and in what direction. It may be useful to take a picture from the side and from the top of the penis while erect, to provide important visual information about the amount of curvature you have developed.
Next, your provider will do a focused physical examination of the penis and testes. He will be looking for evidence of scar tissue within the penis. You may even be able to feel this yourself by squeezing your penis gently through your fingers along its length and seeing if there are any hard nodules.
The physician will check the sensation of your penis with a biothesiometer (This is a completely painless test that measures how intense vibrations need to be for you to sense them). He will also evoke an erection in the office, and evaluate the curvature, and function of the penis. This includes noting the amount of curvature (in degrees) and the direction(s). Importantly, he needs to measure the distance from the tip of the erect penis to maximum place of curvature.
Using ultrasound, he will look at the density and location of the plaque(s.) He will also evaluate the blood flow into and out of your penis, which helps assess your erectile function.
Your physician will usually check your hormone levels by taking blood from your arm.
Peyronie’s Disease TREATMENT
There are many of proposed treatment options for Peyronie’s Disease. These include oral medications, methods for mechanically stretching and molding the penis, injections (which are virtually painless) into the scar tissue, and surgery. Surgery, though quite effective, is used only when less invasive techniques have not worked.
The most common suggested oral therapies are Vitamin E, Colchicine, Potassium Aminobenzoate (POTABA), Tamoxifen Citrate, Carnitine and Pentoxyfylline.
Pentoxyfylline is an oral medication that has combined anti-inflammatory and anti-fibrogenic properties. A study by Safarinejad, et al. showed 36.9% of patients reported a positive response to treatment vs only 4.5% who received placebo. Pentoxyfylline is taken two to three times a day. Pentoxyfylline appears most beneficial during active disease. If your Peyronie’s is deemed to be in the chronic stable stage,Pentoxyfylline is almost assuredly not worth taking.
The other oral medications show no evidence of benefit in reducing penile deformity.
Intralesional therapies involve injecting medications directly into the penile scar tissue. Though may sound scary and painful, but most men report that there is virtually no pain at all from the injections because of the method we use to inject them.
- Collegenase (Xiaflex)
Xiaflex is the only FDA approved medication for the treatment of Peyronie’s Disease. In large studies, patients who received Xiaflex had an average improvement in curvature of 35% as compared to patients who received placebo. The principle is that the collagenase dissolves the collagen, by breaking it down. Then with molding and stretching the curvature will lessen and decrease, since the scar tissue has decreased.
Currently, Xiaflex is approved to be used in up to eight injections. These are given (if needed) in cycles of two. At the beginning of each cycle, your provider will assess the degree, nature, and point of maximal curvature in your penis when erect. The Xiaflex will be injected at the point of maximal curvature. After 5-7 days, the second injection in the cycle will be given. You will be taught how to stretch and mold your penis, both manually, and often with one or more devices. You will need to refrain from masturbation or any sexual relations (involving your penis) from after the first injection, until two weeks after your second injection. It is common, though not inevitable, for you to have modest discomfort, but there should not be significant swelling and or bruising after an injection.
It is crucial that the penis is stretched and molded after the Xiaflex injections, both to further weaken the plaque, and to make sure that when it heals, it heals straight. Six weeks after the second injection of each cycle, you will be re-evaluated to see what progress you have made.
The most important risk of the Xiaflex, is the extremely small possibility of penile rupture. This means that the lining of the erection chambers where the scar is doesn’t just weaken (allowing for straightening) but actually bursts apart. Unfortunately, this involves surgical repair, which is done soon after the rupture. Most of the ruptures reported occur when men have engaged in relations prior to the two weeks after the last injection has elapsed.
How successful this therapy will be is very dependent on the skill of the physician doing the injection. It is critical that your physician localize the plaque to make sure he is going into the right plane, and that he inject the medication into the plaque itself rather than the surrounding tissue.
Dr. Werner was involved in the clinical trials that result in Xialfex getting FDA approval. Because of the expertise needed, he is often referred patients by other urologists, with less experience.
External/mechanical therapies include penile traction devices, and vacuum erection devices, as well as manual molding, stretching and massaging the penis. They are a very important part of the process, helping to lengthen and straighten the penis after the scar tissue has been weakened by the injections. A vacuum erection device can be used twice daily for 10 minutes. In a small study of 31 patients, 21 showed a reduction in curvature between 5-25 degrees.
Surgical options can be considered as part of a treatment plan for patients with Peyronie’s Disease, but only after it has persisted for more than twelve months and has been stable for a minimum of six months. Surgical intervention should not be performed during active disease progression. Surgery is not recommended in patient’s whose curvature is minimal and not impacting intercourse.
There are three main types of surgeries:
- The first is to correct the curvature by shortening the side of the penis directly opposite the curvature. This “evens” out the penis, and straightens the curvature. This should only be used if the patient has good erectile function, but just a mechanical problem in terms of curvature or indentations.
- The second type of surgery involves removing the plaque and replacing it with a graft. This option may be used if a man has even more significant curvature and feels very strongly that he does not want any shortening of his penis.
- If a man has significant difficulty getting and maintaining the erection, in addition to a significant penile curvature, it is often worthwhile to place a penile prosthesis. This gives him the ability get and maintain a rigid erection while simultaneously straightening the penis.
Often, men will use a combination of Xiaflex injections combined with manual stretching/molding and an external device (VED or penile traction). Occasionally, men will also take Pentoxyphyline as part of their treatment plan.
While going through evaluation and treatment it is important to remember that no matter what, if you are adequately motivated, you will be able to get an erection.
As always, the less invasive methods are used first. But if these do not work, or do not work adequately, surgical treatment has an incredibly high rate of success.
The evaluation and treatment of Peyronie’s Disease is complex. There are many important but complicated decisions to make. Once a plan of treatment is determined, there is a significant amount of expertise required to incorporate the different options as well as to perform the various procedures involved in correcting the curvature. It is truly advisable to see a specialist when facing these decisions.