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Understanding Penile Cancer: Types, Risks, Symptoms, and Prevention

Penile cancer is a rare and relatively uncommon condition that affects some men. While most men take great care of their genital area, including their penis, it's crucial to be aware of the existence of penile cancer and its potential risks. In this article, we will explore what penile cancer is and how to recognize it.

Penile cancer occurs when cells begin to grow uncontrollably on or inside a man's penis, typically originating in the skin cells and spreading inward. Despite its rarity, penile cancer, like many other cancers, can be effectively treated if detected early. In 2022, an estimated 2,070 men in the United States were diagnosed with penile cancer.

There are different types of penile cancer that a man can be diagnosed with, including:

  1. Squamous Cell or Epidermoid Carcinoma: Accounting for 95% of penile cancer cases, it often starts on or under the foreskin but can also appear on other parts of the penis.

  2. Sarcoma: These cancers form in tissues such as blood vessels, muscle, and fat.

  3. Melanoma: This type originates in the cells responsible for skin color.

  4. Basal Cell Carcinoma: These cancers start deep in the skin, grow slowly, and are unlikely to spread to other parts of the body.

Risk Factors Involved With Penile Cancer

Healthy skin cells can transform into cancer cells, multiplying uncontrollably to form tumors that can displace healthy cells and spread throughout the body, damaging organs and tissues. Several risk factors include:

  • Human Papillomavirus (HPV)

  • HIV or AIDS, which can weaken the immune system.

  • Smoking

  • Lack of circumcision leading to smegma formation under the foreskin.

  • Phimosis

  • Past psoriasis treatments involved psoralen drugs and UV light.

Symptoms of Penile Cancer

Penile cancer can manifest in various ways, and while not all cancers produce noticeable changes, some symptoms to watch for include:

  • A painless lump or sore that may bleed

  • Swelling and irritation, especially on the head of the penis

  • Changes in skin thickness or color

  • Bluish-brown growths

  • Foul-smelling fluid beneath the foreskin

  • Small, crusty bumps

  • Rashes

Prevention of Penile Cancer

Preventing penile cancer is essential, even though it is a rare disease. You can reduce your risk by taking specific preventive measures, such as:

  • Undergoing circumcision

  • Seeking treatment for phimosis

  • Receiving the HPV vaccine

  • Practicing safer sex to reduce the risk of HIV

  • Avoiding tobacco products, like cigarettes

  • Maintaining good personal hygiene


While penile cancer is relatively rare, it is essential not to underestimate the possibility of being diagnosed with it, especially if you engage in risky behaviors like smoking, unprotected sex, or being uncircumcised. If you notice any changes in the appearance of your penis, seek a urologist's consultation promptly. Early detection can significantly increase your chances of successful treatment. Taking good care of your personal hygiene is also important in reducing the risk of penile cancer and other types of cancer.


Written by: Deepti Dogra

Edited by: Aniket Joshi

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