Penile Cancer


Penile cancer is a rare form of cancer that affects approximately 2,000 men in the U.S. each year. This cancer begins on the skin cells of the penis and can work its way inside, causing greater issues.



Symptom severity will vary from man to man. Some may see symptoms in the early stages, and others may not see signs until the disease has spread. Symptoms may include: 

  • Change in the skin of the penis
  • Wart-like growth or lesion that may or may not be painful 
  • Open sore that won’t heal
  • Reddish rash
  • Small, crusty bumps
  • Flat, bluish-brown growths
  • Swelling at the end of the penis
  • Persistent, smelly discharge under the foreskin
  • Swollen lymph nodes in the groin if the cancer has spread

You may not be able to see these changes unless the foreskin is pulled back. Not talking about these symptoms can delay you from seeking the treatment you need until penile cancer is advanced and hard to treat. Although these symptoms may not mean you have cancer, you should report any changes or concerns to your doctor as soon as possible.

Major Risk Factors

  • Age (in the U.S., the majority of all prostate cancers are found in men over the age of 60.)
  • Smoking
  • Weakened immune system
  • Not being circumcised



Penectomy: a surgery that removes all or part of the penis. 

Penile preservation surgery: treats penile cancer wherever possible without removing the penis. 

Circumcision: Surgical removal of the penis foreskin and some of the nearby skin. This procedure may be done if the penile cancer has not spread beyond the foreskin. It also may be done before radiation therapy.

Partial Penectomy: The tumor is removed along with a margin of healthy tissue. In the past, a 2-centimeter margin was removed in all cases of penile cancer. Recent research suggests such wide margins may not be needed. Surgeons try to spare as much of the glans (head) and shaft as possible to keep urinary and sexual function.

Total penectomy: Removal of the entire penis for treatment of large penile cancer tumors. The surgeon reroutes the urethra (the tube that urine passes through) behind the testicles, and an urethrostomy (opening for the urethra) is created so you can urinate. Penile reconstruction surgery using a flap of skin from the forearm to create a new penis has been done, but the procedure is rare.

Mohs surgery (microscopically-controlled surgery): The surgeon surgically removes a thin layer of skin and looks at it right away under a microscope. This process is repeated until the cells are free of cancer.

Laser surgery: Light from a laser vaporizes penile cancer cells.

Radiation Therapy

In penile cancer, radiation therapy may be used to treat early stage tumors, with surgery to remove lymph nodes, and, in advanced cancers, to control spread and help relieve symptoms.


Topical chemotherapy: An anti-cancer medicine, usually 5-fluorouracil or 5-FU, is applied as a cream for several weeks. This generally is used only for precancerous or very early penile cancer.

Systemic chemotherapy: Medicine injected into a vein or given by mouth.

Imiquimod: A drug in a cream form that boosts the body’s immune system. It is sometimes used to treat very early stage penile cancer.