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Penile Cancer - Types, Causes, Symptoms, Risk Factors, Stages, Diagnosis, and Treatment

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Penile Cancer - Types, Causes, Symptoms, Risk Factors, Stages, Diagnosis, and Treatment

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Penile cancer is a rare form of cancer that affects the penis. It can occur due to problems like a tight foreskin. Read this article to know more.

Written by

Dr. Lochana .k

Medically reviewed by

Dr. Raveendran S R

Published At March 5, 2021
Reviewed AtMay 2, 2023


Penis refers to the male reproductive organ. It plays a vital role in sexual functions. The maximum size of the penis is seen after puberty. There are nearly six different shapes of the penis. The shape does not influence sexual function. Three parts will include the shaft, the head of the penis, and the foreskin. The foreskin protects the penis. The foreskin removal from a penis is known as circumcision. The penis also contains a urethral opening, which will contribute to urinary functions. It is the external part of the reproductive system and has a high possibility of getting infection and trauma. In this article, the various aspects of penile cancer include causes, types, stages, symptoms, diagnosis, and treatment.

What Is Penile Cancer?

Penile cancer refers to cancer of the penis. The cancer cells grow abnormally and cause several abnormal symptoms. Cancer initially starts in the superficial layers and spreads to the deeper part of the tissues. It is a very rare condition and could be treated well if the doctors identify it at an earlier stage.

What Are the Types of Penile Cancer?

The various types of penile cancer are:

  • Sarcoma: Sarcoma is a type of cancer that starts in the fat, muscles, and blood vessels.

  • Melanoma: Melanoma is a type of cancer that starts in the cells called melanocytes. These cells provide a brown color to the skin.

  • Squamous Cell Carcinoma:Squamous cell carcinoma contributes to most cases of penile cancer. It begins on the surface of the foreskin. In some patients, it begins on the inner surface of the foreskin. The cancer might spread to the other part of the penis.

  • Basal Cell Carcinoma: Basal cell carcinoma refers to cancer that is more virulent in nature. It begins in the innermost layer of the skin. It starts as slow cancer and does not spread to other sites of the body.

What Are the Causes of Penile Cancer?

The causes of penile cancer are:

  • Poor Personal Hygiene: A substance called smegma is a thick fluid that collects under the foreskin. In men who have not been circumcised, their foreskin tends to deposit a lot of dirt. If it is not cleaned properly, smegma will collect as a cheesy substance, and it can contribute to the growth of cancer. In many cases, a circumcised foreskin provides a greater level of protection against penile cancer.

  • Phimosis: It refers to the condition where the foreskin is very tight. The extreme tightness of the foreskin makes it difficult for the male to clean the site. When proper clearance is not maintained in the penis, a build-up of fluid results.

  • Psoriasis:Psoriasis is a condition that can severely affect the skin. Having a condition of psoriasis and treatment with drugs like Psoralen can contribute to the occurrence of penile cancer.

  • Ultraviolet Radiation: Increased exposure to ultraviolet radiation to the penis can elevate the possibility of getting affected by penile cancer.

What Are the Signs and Symptoms of Penile Cancer?

Some signs and symptoms might indicate the presence of penile cancer. It is not possible to make a confirmatory diagnosis with those signs and symptoms. The first notable sign could be the changes in the skin color of the penis. The most visible change is seen on the tip of the penis. In some men, it is seen on the foreskin also. The other notable signs and symptoms are:

  • Formation of a lump.

  • Increase in the thickness of the skin.

  • Soreness of the penis.

  • Bleeding from the lesion.

  • Formation of bumps.

  • Bluish or brownish growth.

  • Velvety and reddish rashes.

  • Discharge of fluids.

Some patients might experience pain in the bump or the lesion, whereas other patients do not experience pain at all. Swelling may be seen at the tip of the penis. The swelling may be more pronounced if the foreskin is tight or constricted. The cancerous condition of the penis can form lumps in the groin area. This is seen along with the enlargement of lymph nodes. The lymph nodes may be smooth under the surface of the skin. All the enlarged lymph nodes do not indicate cancer. It can happen due to an infection in the penis.

What Are the Risk Factors Associated With Penile Cancer?

The various risk factor associated with penile cancer are:

  • Age: Men who are more than 60 years of age have the highest risk for penile cancer.

  • Smoking: Smoking cigarettes can reduce sexual function, and it can also cause a greater range of health problems. The risk of penile cancer is high in smokers.

  • Sexually Transmitted Infections: Sexually transmitted infections caused by the human papillomavirus and human immunodeficiency virus can serve as a risk factor for penile cancer.

What Are the Stages of Penile Cancer?

The stages of penile cancer help in identifying the extent of the spread of cancer.

  • Stage 0: In this stage, cancer is seen only in the superficial layer of the skin. No spreading of cancer is involved.

  • Stage 1: In stage 1, cancer has spread to the connective tissue, and layers are just below the skin. In this stage also there is no involvement of other parts of the body.

  • Stage 2: In stage 2, the spreading of cancer to the blood vessels or the lymph nodes is seen. The connective tissue is greatly destroyed. The normal cells might look different from the cancer cell.

  • Stage 3A: In this stage, cancer development is seen in the urethra. One or two lymph nodes are involved. Cancer would not spread to the other organs in this stage.

  • Stage 3B: Several involvements of lymph nodes are seen. The erectile tissues of the penis are greatly affected. The major difference between stages 3A and 3B is the involvement of several lymph nodes in 3B.

  • Stage 4: It is the most severe and complicated stage in penile cancer, where the cancer involvement is seen in the scrotum, prostate, and pubic bone.

How Can Penile Cancer Be Diagnosed?

Diagnosis for penile cancer requires a physical examination of the penis by the doctor. The changes in color and lumps will be noted. A proper case history would be required for a precise diagnosis. The other diagnostic methods to identify penile cancer are:

  • Biopsy: In a biopsy, a small part of the tissue is removed from the penis. Laboratory findings are helpful in the detection of cancer cells.

  • Imaging Techniques: The doctor will recommend an X-ray, ultrasound, CT (Computed tomography) scan, or MRI (Magnetic resonance testing) for checking the site and size of the tumor.

What Are the Treatment Options for Penile Cancer?

The treatment for penile cancer might involve the following.

  • Medication: Topical application of medication in the form of cream will be helpful for the patient.

  • Lasers: Lasers can be employed to destroy cancer tissues.

  • Cryotherapy: Cryotherapy is a procedure in which cancer is destroyed using extremely cooled products or devices.

  • Mohs Surgery: It is a surgery that is performed by doctors to remove the affected layer of the penis. Special surgical methods are employed to remove the involved lymph nodes.

  • Penectomy: It is a surgical procedure in which a part of the penis or the complete penis is removed.

  • Chemotherapy or Radiation Therapy: This therapy helps the body to get rid of cancer cells.

What Are the Preventive Measures for Penile Cancer?

Circumcision is the best method to prevent penile cancer. It also provides an opportunity for keeping the penis clean and healthy. If the patient is suffering from conditions like phimosis, then they should perform specific exercises that can be helpful for loosening the foreskin. It is also necessary for the person to indulge in safe sexual practices. The usage of condoms is recommended to avoid sexually transmitted diseases like autoimmune deficiency syndrome (AIDS).


Penile cancer is a rare and serious form of cancer. Penile cancer can be diagnosed through a physical examination, biopsy, and imaging tests. Early detection and treatment can improve the health of the patient. The use of safe sexual practices can prevent Human Immunodeficiency Virus and Human Papillomavirus Infections.

Frequently Asked Questions


How Will a Penile Cancer Appear?

Penile cancer begins as an ulcer, lump, or abnormal mass. It might be small in some patients. The lesion becomes more prominent as it progresses. It is mostly located on the foreskin or the head of the penis. Occurence of the lesion in the shaft of the penis is very rare.


What Are the Reasons for the Occurrence of Penile Cancer?

Penile cancer occurs due to the following factors.
- Poor personal hygiene.
- Psoriasis.
- Phimosis.
- Ultraviolet Radiation.


What Are the Signs and Symptoms of Penile Cancer?

The signs and symptoms of penile cancer are:
- Velvety and reddish rashes.
- Formation of a lump.
- Soreness of the penis.
- Discharge of fluids.
- Bleeding from the lesion.
- Increase in the thickness of the skin.
- Bluish or brownish growth.


Does Penile Cancer Produce Visible Lesions?

Yes, penile cancer gives visible lesions. It is mostly found on the foreskin of the patients. Some patients also have a notable red lesion on the head of the penis. These lesions are often accompanied by itchiness.


What Are the Different Stages of Penile Cancer?

There are six stages of penile cancer. They are:
- Stage 0: Only the superficial layer of the skin is involved.
- Stage 1: Cancer spreads to the connective tissue.
- Stage 2: Spreading of cancer to the blood vessels or the lymph nodes is noted.
- Stage 3A: Development of cancer is seen in the urethra.
- Stage 3B: Involvement of lymph nodes is seen.
- Stage 4: It is the most severe stage of cancer where the cancer is seen in the prostate, scrotum, and pubic bone.


When Will a Penile Cancer Occur?

Penile cancer usually occurs in men who are more than 50 years of age. The increased occurrence in older men was due to the prolonged usage of tobacco and alcohol. Medical reports suggest that it is a very rare form of cancer in the United States of America.


Does Penile Cancer Progress in a Fast Manner?

The progression of penile cancer is staged for diagnostic purposes. In the initial stages, the cancer is usually subtle. When it develops, cancer starts spreading to the blood vessels and lymph nodes. From here, the progression of the disease would be very fast.


How Long Can a Person Survive With Penile Cancer?

The survival of penile cancer is often unpredictable. Some patients live as long as five years after the diagnosis, whereas some patients find it very hard to survive a minimum of one year after the diagnosis is made. The underlying health condition and immune status of the individual should also be taken into consideration.


What Are the Available Treatment Methods for Penile Cancer?

Penile cancer can be treated with the help of the following treatment methods:
- Medication.
- Lasers.
- Penectomy.
- Cryotherapy.
- Mohs Surgery.
- Radiotherapy.
- Chemotherapy.


Can Urine Tests Help in Detecting Penile Cancer?

Urine tests can help in diagnosing the condition of penile cancer only to a certain extent. The main purpose of urine tests is to identify infectious conditions like balanitis. For making a confirmatory diagnosis for penile cancer, other specific methods are required.


Is It Possible to Cure Penile Cancer?

Penile cancer can be cured only if it is detected in the initial stages of cancer. If cancer progresses and spreads to other organs, then it becomes very difficult to treat them. The life expectancy of patients who are detected with penile cancer in the later stages is five years.


How Can You Prevent Penile Cancer?

Penile cancer can be prevented by a method called circumcision. It is the technique in which the foreskin is removed by surgical methods. With the help of circumcision, the penis can be maintained in a clean and hygienic manner. Therefore, conditions like penile cancer can be prevented.
Dr. Lochana .k
Dr. Lochana .k



penile cancercancertight foreskinsexually transmitted diseases
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