Penile cancer is a disease in which malignant cancer cells form in the penis. The penis is made up of several types of tissues, which in turn are made of lots of different types of cells. All of these types of cells can turn into different forms of cancer, but almost all penile cancers start in the skin cells. Penile cancer is rare in the United States


As is the case with many cancers, penile cancer does not always have a known cause. But doctors have found that other conditions are often linked to penile cancer. These conditions include:

  • AIDS caused by an HIV infection
  • Human papillomavirus (HPV)
  • Tobacco use
  • Genetic factors
  • Bodily fluid trapped in the foreskin

Different types of cancers form in different types of cells in the penis. The appearance and behavior of the cancer will vary depending on the type of cells it affects. These cancers include:

  • Squamous cell carcinoma
  • Melanoma
  • Basal cell carcinoma
  • Adenocarcinoma
  • Sarcoma


The symptoms of penile cancer can be the same or similar to other non-cancerous conditions. In fact, many of the symptoms listed are most often caused by another condition. However, if you have any of the following symptoms you should consult a physician so any conditions, cancer or otherwise, can be detected early and treated:

  • Skin changes in the foreskin or on the shaft
    • Thickening
    • A reddish, velvety rash under the foreskin
    • A sore or ulcer that may bleed
    • Discharge or bleeding under the foreskin
    • Discoloration
    • Flat, blue or brown growths
  • Swelling at the end of the penis
  • Lumps beneath the skin in the groin


If you have any symptoms of penile cancer, you should seek medical attention. To diagnose cancer of the penis, your doctor will first give you a physical exam and obtain a detailed medical history. Depending on the findings of the physical exam and history, additional tests may be needed. 

A biopsy is the only way to get a definitive diagnosis. The doctor will take a tissue sample and send it to the lab for analysis. There are a variety of ways biopsies can be done depending on the type of lesion or abnormality and its location. results are usually available within a few days.

Imaging tests like MRIs, CT scans, and x-rays are also used in the diagnostic process, especially if the doctor believes cancer has spread.


The type of treatment prescribed for penile cancer depends greatly on the type and stage of cancer. Treatments for cancers of the penis can be divided into four main categories: surgery, radiation therapy, local treatment, and chemotherapy.

  • Surgery: The most common treatment for penile cancer is surgery to remove tumors. If the cancer is caught early and tumors are small, then they can often be excised (cut out) without removing part of the penis. Doctors use procedures that will spare the penis are used as often as possible. However, the larger and deeper the tumors are, the more likely it is that parts of the penis will need to be removed.
  • Radiation Therapy: If needed, radiation therapy may be used in addition to therapy. In some cases, radiation can be used instead of surgery. 
  • Non-Surgical Local Treatments: In early-stage cancer, localized treatments like cryosurgery (freezing), laser ablation, and topical treatments (medications applied directly to the skin of the penis) may be used.
  • Chemotherapy: If penile cancer involves larger tumors, chemotherapy may be used to shrink them before surgery for easier removal. Chemotherapy can also be prescribed if cancer has spread from the penis to the lymph nodes or other organs. 

Risk Factors

Penile cancer is rare, but there are certain groups of people who are affected more often. Factors that can increase the risk of penile cancer include:

  • Being 60 or older
  • Having many sexual partners (increases chances of HIV and HPV)
  • Poor hygiene
  • Tobacco use

Schedule an Appointment

At Alliance Urology Specialists, our goal is to provide the highest level of specialized urology care. Our board-certified physicians specialize in the diagnosis and treatment of a variety of urological conditions, including penile cancer. To schedule an appointment, call Alliance Urology Specialists in Greensboro at (336) 274-1114.