Penile Cancer

Penile cancer is a rare type of cancer that occurs on the skin of the penis or within the penis.

In the UK, around 550 men are diagnosed with cancer of the penis each year. It most commonly affects men over 60 years of age.

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  • A growth or sore on the penis that doesn't heal within four weeks
  • Bleeding from the penis or from under the foreskin
  • A foul smelling discharge
  • Thickening of the skin of the penis or foreskin that makes it difficult to draw back the foreskin (phimosis)
  • A change in the colour of the skin of the penis or foreskin
  • A rash on the penis
  • Unexplained pain in the shaft or tip of the penis
  • Irregular or growing bluish-brown flat lesions or marks beneath the foreskin or on the body of the penis.
  • Reddish, velvety rash beneath the foreskin
  • Small, crusty bumps beneath the foreskin
  • Irregular swelling at the end of the penis

If you experience any of these symptoms, it's important that they are checked by your GP as soon as possible.

It's unlikely that they are caused by cancer of the penis, but they need to be investigated. Any delay in diagnosing penile cancer could reduce the chances of successful treatment.

The causes of penile cancer are not known, but certain risk factors can increase your chances of getting it:


Men who carry the human papilloma virus (HPV) which is the virus that causes genital warts, have an increased risk of developing penile cancer. Studies have found that almost 5 out of 10 men (47%) with penile cancer also have an HPV infection.


Age is a risk factor for cancer of the penis. The condition most commonly occurs in men aged over 60. However men in their 30s and 40s can also be affected.


Smoking is the most significant lifestyle factor associated with penile cancer. Chemicals found in cigarettes are excreted in urine which may then interact with secretions that can build up under the foreskin resulting in abnormal cell changes in the penis.

The presence of the foreskin

Penile cancer is virtually unknown in men who have been circumcised as a child. Circumcision in later life does not affect the risk of penile cancer.


This is the inability to pull back or retract the foreskin fully.

It can occur as a result of skin irritation or inflammation or affect some men from birth. It will reduce the ability of a man to clean the penis thoroughly or notice any abnormal changes and may lead to a build-up of substances that could later contribute to the development of penile cancer. Research suggests that men with phimosis are around 10 times more at risk of developing penile cancer.