Skip to main content.

Penile Cancer

According to the American Cancer Society, Penile cancer is rare in North America and Europe. It's diagnosed in fewer than 1 man in 100,000 each year and accounts for fewer than 1% of cancers in males in the United States. Penile cancer is much more common in some parts of Asia, Africa and South America. 

Penile cancer starts in or on the penis. Almost all penile cancers start in the skin, so they are often noticed early in the course of the disease. Cancers that start under the foreskin may not be seen as quickly, especially if a male has phimosis (constriction of the foreskin). Some penile cancers may cause symptoms that could also be caused by a disease other than cancer.

Signs and Symptoms

The first sign of penile cancer is most often a change in the skin of the penis. This is most likely to be on the glans (tip) of the penis or on the foreskin (in uncircumcised men), but it can also be on the shaft. 

Signs to look for include:

  •  An area of skin becoming thicker
  • Changes in the skin color
  • A lump
  • An ulcer (sore) that might bleed
  • A reddish, velvety rash under the foreskin
  • Small, crusty bumps
  • Flat, bluish-brown growths
  • Smelly discharge (fluid) or bleeding under the foreskin

You should see a doctor if you find any kind of new growth or other abnormality on your penis, even if it's not painful. Things like warts, blisters, sores, ulcers, white patches, or other abnormal areas need to be looked at by a doctor. Most are not cancer, but they may be caused by an infection or some other condition that needs to be treated.

Unfortunately, some males avoid going to the doctor for lesions (abnormalities) on their penis. Many males with penile lesions put off seeking treatment for a year or more after they first notice the problem.

Risk Factors

A risk factor is anything that increases your chance of getting a disease such as cancer. Different cancers have different risk factors. Some risk factors, like the use of tobacco products, can be changed. Others, like your age or family history, can’t be changed.

But having a risk factor, or even several risk factors does not mean that you will get the disease. And some people who get the disease may have few or no known risk factors. For penile cancer, risk factors include:

  • Being age 60 or older
  • Having phimosis (a condition in which the foreskin of the penis cannot be pulled back over the glans)
  • Having poor personal hygiene
  • Having many sexual partners
  • Using tobacco products

Treatment Overview

Surgery is the main treatment for most males with penile cancers, but sometimes radiation therapy may be used, either instead of or in addition to surgery. Other local treatments might also be used for early-stage tumors. Chemotherapy may be given for some larger tumors or if the cancer has spread.

If cancer is found early, it can often be removed with little or no damage to the penis. But if it is not diagnosed until later, part of or all of the penis may need to be removed to treat the cancer. It is also more likely to require other, more invasive treatments, and may even be life-threatening. 

Meet the Team


Options to Request an Appointment

If your situation is an emergency, call 911.