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What is Penile Cancer?

Penile cancer is when the penis, the male organ that passes sperm and urine from the body in males, forms cancer cells in its tissue.


The symptoms of penile cancer can vary, but include:

  • Swelling at the end of the penis
  • Penile discharge
  • Redness
  • Irritation
  • Sores
  • A lump on the penis
  • Difficulty peeing
  • Weight loss

The symptoms also change depending on the stage of the cancer, the location of the tumor, and where the cancer has spread.

When to See a Doctor

See your healthcare provider if you have any penile cancer symptoms listed above.


Penile cancer is caused by cells that become malignant [muh-LIG-nuhnt] in the tissues of the penis. These cells don’t stop growing like normal cells, which causes a tumor that can spread to other parts of your body.

Risk Factors

  • Having phimosis [fahy-MOS-sis], a condition where the foreskin can’t be pulled over the tip of the penis
  • Smegma, secretions under the skin of the foreskin
  • HPV, Human Papillomavirus Infection
  • AIDS

Diagnosis and Tests

Tests to check for penile cancer include:

  • Physical exam and health history. During this test, your doctor will check for unusual bumps or lumps on the skin of your penis, and ask questions about your health history.
  • Biopsy. In this test, a small sample of tissue or cells will be removed for study under a microscope for signs of cancer.

After cancer has been found, more tests will be done to see if it has spread:

  • CT scan
  • MRI
  • Ultrasound
  • Chest x-ray
  • Biopsy


Treatment depends on how much the cancer has spread. There are many different treatment options. Sometimes, a combination of treatments is the best option. Treatment options include:

  • Surgery. In this treatment, the tumor is cut or removed from the skin. Methods include lasers, freezing, or removal of all or part of the penis. Surgery may be followed by other treatment methods.
  • Radiation therapy. Radiation uses x-rays to kill cancer cells and stop them from growing. There are two types of radiation:
    • Internal radiation uses a radioactive substance inside a needle that is placed into or near the cancer.
    • External radiation uses a machine outside the body to send x-rays to the cancer.
  • Chemotherapy. This treatment method uses drugs to stop the growth of cancer. The drugs either kill the cancer cells or stop them from moving to other places in the body.
  • Immunotherapy. This treatment boosts the patient’s immune system to help fight the cancer.

The treatment used depends on the stage of the cancer. Some treatments are not effective for certain stages. Other, new types of treatment can be tried in clinical trials. Ask your doctor if you can try any of these.


Some of the risks of penile cancer can be avoided or prevented with the right care. These include:

  • Bad personal hygiene. Keeping your genital area clean can reduce your risk of penile cancer.
  • Tobacco use. Quitting smoking can help you be healthier, and reduces your risk of penile and other kinds of cancer.
  • Genital warts or HPV. If you are under the age of 25, you can get an HPV vaccine that will prevent the virus that increases your risk of cancer.
  • Penis injury. Taking steps to stay safe and avoid risks can help keep your penis and other parts of your body safe.

Avoid these risks to lower your chance of getting penile cancer.