In the current issue of BJUI, Gopman et al.  report the findings of an international multicentre study examining postoperative complications after inguinal lymph node dissection (ILND) for penile cancer. Their study is the largest to date, and despite its retrospective nature, provides detailed insight into this complex and morbid procedure.
ILND is a critical step in penile cancer treatment, and according to the guidelines of the European Association of Urology, is warranted when the clinical suspicion of lymph node invasion arises . ILND helps to refine pathological staging and has been incorporated into prognostic tools estimating cancer-specific survival after treatment . Despite clinical necessity, ILND is associated with exceptionally high complication rates, as reflected by the current studies’ 55.4% postoperative complication rate. As expected, most of the complications were due to wound complications. Although the authors recognised a decrease in major wound infections after 2008, the overall rate of morbidity after ILND for penile cancer has not changed substantially when compared with historical series .
The process of care for these patients can be long and tedious; it affects the personal well-being of the patient and is also responsible for a heavy societal financial burden . The results of the current retrospective analysis are particularly sobering, given that the current data are exclusively from centres specialising in the care of patients with penile cancer. The number of unreported complications at lower volume centres may well be much higher than those evidenced by Gopman et al. .
So what can we do to improve our surgical results? The study by Gopman et al.  provides us with some tools for advancement. They found that the numbers of removed lymph nodes was a predictor for overall complications in their cohort. Specifically, higher pathological stages were accountable for all wound infections, while age and sartorius flap transposition affected major wound infections significantly. Unfortunately, the study could not provide granular information on preoperative comorbidities, e.g. diabetes mellitus, chronic steroid use and smoking status among others, which could have offered a deeper understanding of the determinants of complication.
Nonetheless, the authors are to be commended for their efforts to provide the urological community with the best available evidence, collected thus far, about complications of ILND for penile cancer. The rarity of penile cancer may limit a clinician’s ability to perceive the early warning signs of a deviation from the routine postoperative course. As such, the current study will not only help us to better counsel our patients but may also help raise our postoperative awareness of complications, thereby achieving improvements in operative outcomes.