June 13, 2024

What Does Penile Cancer Look Like?

Man talking with a doctor

Penile cancer (cancer of the penis) develops when cancer cells develop and grow out of control. It’s a rare form of cancer. However, like any cancer, if not identified and addressed, it can have severe consequences, including spreading to other parts of the body.

This article explains what penile cancer looks like so you can be watchful for it.

Understanding Penile Cancer

Doctors most often diagnose penile cancer in patients who are over 55, but it can develop earlier. This cancer can occur anywhere on the penis, but it’s most common on the head or foreskin (for those who are uncircumcised). Most penile cancers are squamous cell carcinomas occurring in the top layer of the skin (epithelium).

Other types of cancer can affect the penis, including:

  • Basal cell carcinoma. This slow-growing cancer occurs in the bottom layer of the epithelium.
  • Melanoma. This more aggressive form starts in cells that control skin tone.
  • Sarcoma. Extremely rare, this type of cancer affects muscle or connective tissue.

It’s not known what causes penile cancer, but researchers have identified factors that can increase your risk, including:

  • Poor hygiene
  • Tobacco use
  • Human papillomavirus (HPV)
  • Human immunodeficiency virus (HIV)
  • PUVA (radiation treatment for psoriasis)
  • Phimosis (where the foreskin becomes so tight you can’t retract it)
  • Lichen sclerosus (an inflammatory disorder affecting the head or foreskin)

Penile cancer isn’t contagious. However, HPV (one of the risk factors) can be transmitted through vaginal, oral, and anal sex.

How To Spot Penile Cancer

Signs and symptoms of penile cancer include:

  • A painless lump
  • Irritation or swelling (especially in the head of the penis)
  • A sore that may or may not bleed
  • Rash
  • Thickening or color changes in the skin
  • Small, crusty bumps
  • Flat blue-ish brown growths
  • Smelly fluid under the foreskin

Remember that other conditions, such as infections and allergic reactions, can cause these symptoms. However, you should talk with your doctor if you experience them.

How Do Doctors Diagnose and Treat Penile Cancer?

Doctors use various tests to diagnose penile cancer. First, they take a medical history and perform a physical exam, looking for unusual skin changes. This helps them determine if an infection or allergic reaction is causing the problem.

If appropriate, they may perform a biopsy to obtain skin cells from the affected area for analysis. In situations where cancer is detected, they may prescribe imaging procedures (MRI, CT scan, ultrasound, etc.) to determine if the cancer has spread.

Treatments for penile cancer include medicated creams, circumcision, laser or cryotherapy to remove cancerous cells, excision (surgically removing cancerous tissue), and radiation therapy. In severe cases, a penectomy (removal of part or all of the penis) may be necessary.

Talk With Your Baptist Health Doctor About Penile Cancer

Penile cancer is rare but can grow and spread if not treated. If you suspect you may have it, it’s important to talk with your doctor. Often, symptoms affecting the penis are from infections or allergic reactions, but it’s best not to dismiss them.

You can use our online provider directory to find a Baptist Health physician if you don’t have one.

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