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  • Writer's pictureThe Oncologist

Penile Cancer (Cancer of the Penis)

Today I want to talk about cancer of the penis also known as penile cancer. Sometimes when we talk about cancer there is a misconception that its a disease that affect women only. So I want to address this issue.

Penile cancer is when cancer cells form in the tissue of the penis. It may begin as a blister on the foreskin, head or shaft of the penis then it may become a wart-like growth that discharges blood or foul-smelling liquid (detailed symptoms to be discussed at the end of this post).

The exact cause of penile cancer is not known but there are several risk factors. Having any of these risk factors doesn’t mean that you will definitely develop cancer.

1. HPV (Human Papilloma Virus) - the same virus linked to cervical cancer - is a common infection that gets passed from one person to another by sexual contact. For most people the virus causes no harm and goes away without treatment but men with HPV have an increased risk of developing cancer of the penis. About 60% of penile cancer cases are caused by HPV infection and some types of HPV cause genital warts. There are over 100 types of HPV and each one has a number. The main types of HPV found in men with penile cancer are HPV 16 and 18.

2. Circumcision MAY (emphasis added) reduce the risk of HPV infection of the penis.Uncircumcised men may sometimes find it difficult to draw back their foreskin. This is called phimosis. Men with phimosis have a higher risk of penile cancer than other men. The reason for this is not clear. It may relate to other known risk factors, including a build-up of secretions under the foreskin. Smegma is a cheese-like substance made up of dead skin cells that can build up under a tight foreskin. This can cause irritation and inflammation of the penis if it is not cleaned on a regular basis.

3. A weakened immune system is also a risk factor. The immune system fights infection and diseases like cancer in the body. You may be at higher risk of penile cancer if you have a weakened immune system, and other cancers. HIV infection or AIDS may lower the immune system. Some drugs after an organ transplant may also weaken the immune system.

4. Smoking


Changes in the penis skin are the most common symptom of penile cancer. They can show up on the foreskin or on the penis tip or shaft. Most men with these symptoms don’t have penile cancer but it’s important to get any unusual symptoms on or near your penis checked out right away. Other warning signs include:

^Smelly discharge underneath the foreskin or swelling ^Lumps under the skin in the groin area ^Growths on the penis that look bluish-brown ^Changes in thickness or color of skin on the penis ^A rash or small “crusty” bumps on it; it can look like an unhealed scab. ^A sore on the penis, which may be bleeding

***Remember that not being circumcised is only one risk factor for this type of cancer. Other risk factors such as smoking and HPV infection are more important. Early detection leads to better treatment and outcomes.

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