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Overview

Cancer cells can form in the penis, the male organ that passes urine and sperm. The penis is comprised of skin, nerves, smooth muscle, and blood vessels. Each type of tissue in the penis has different cells, and different types of penile cancer can arise from these cells.

Penile malignancies are in a group known as genitourinary (GU) cancers, and Wilmot offers the most comprehensive, advanced care for GU cancer in the Finger Lakes region.

Penile cancer types

Sometimes growths on the penis are not cancer. They include genital warts and Bowenoid papulosis, which are linked to HPV infections among sexually active men. When cancer does occur, about 95 percent of the time it is squamous cell carcinoma. It usually develops in the foreskin and when caught early, it’s often curable.

Other types of cancers of the penis include:

  • Melanoma, a dangerous skin cancer that’s usually found on sun-exposed areas of the body. Rarely, though, it can occur on the penis.
  • Basal cell carcinoma, another type of skin cancer, can also appear on the penis. It is usually slow-growing.
  • Adenocarcinoma, which is a very rare cancer that develops in the sweat glands of the penis.
  • Sarcoma, which is also very rare but can develop in the blood vessels or connective tissues of the penis.

Penile cancer facts

This disease is rare; about 2,000 new cases a year are diagnosed. It accounts for less than one percent of cancers in men in the U.S., although it’s more common in other parts of the world. About 85 percent of men with early-stage penile cancer survive.

Causes and risk factors

Human papillomavirus infection (HPV) and not having a circumcision (removal of the foreskin) at birth are leading risk factors. Many different strains of HPV exist, and the infection is very common and passed easily during sex. Men who are not circumcised are more likely to get HPV and stay infected, and chronic infection can lead to cancer.

Other risk factors:

  • Being age 60 or older
  • Smoking
  • Phimosis, a condition in uncircumcised men that might contribute to poor hygiene and the buildup of secretions under the foreskin
  • UVA light treatment for men with psoriasis who expose their genitals to the ultraviolet light source
  • AIDS

Prevention

Some studies suggest that circumcision is a good way to prevent penile cancer. Good personal hygiene is very important to prevent penile cancer in uncircumcised men. Other prevention strategies include quitting smoking or not ever smoking, and avoiding HPV infections. Most physicians recommend that boys and young men get the HPV vaccine before they become sexually active.