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Penile cancer

This page was reviewed under our medical and editorial policy by Sean Cavanaugh, MD, Chair, Department of Radiation Oncology

This page was updated on January 29, 2022.

Penile cancer is a type of cancer that begins in or on the penis, which is part of the male reproductive system. Penile cancer is rare, with about 2,100 new cases expected to be diagnosed in 2024, according to the American Cancer Society (ACS). The disease is diagnosed in fewer than 1 man in 100,000 each year, and accounts for fewer than 1 percent of cancers in men in the United States. Penile cancer is much more common in certain parts of Asia, Africa and South America.

This overview will cover the basic facts about penile cancer, including:

If you believe you may be experiencing symptoms of penile cancer and want to schedule an appointment for diagnostic testing, or if you’re interested in a second opinion on your penile cancer diagnosis and treatment plan, call us or chat online with a member of our team.

Causes of penile cancer

Penile cancer types

There are several types of penile cancer, some more rare than others. A urology specialist or oncologist will identify the type to determine the severity of the cancer and the appropriate treatment options.

Squamous cell carcinoma: Almost all penile cancers (about 95 percent) begin in flat skin cells (squamous cells), according to the ACS. Squamous cell carcinoma (or squamous cell cancer) may develop anywhere on the penis but tends to start on the foreskin or glans (head of the penis). This generally slow-growing cancer may be treatable if found at an early stage.

  • Verrucous carcinoma: Also called a Buschke-Lowenstein tumor, a verrucous carcinoma on the penis is an uncommon form of squamous cell cancer. It may resemble a large genital wart and is usually slow growing, but it has the capacity to grow to a large size over time.
  • Carcinoma in situ (CIS): This squamous cell cancer of the penis typically hasn’t reached deeper skin tissue and remains in the top layers of skin.

Basal cell carcinoma: This rare type of penile cancer is slow growing and doesn’t often spread to other parts of the body.

Melanoma: A small number of penile cancers are melanomas. A type of skin cancer, melanoma begins in skin cells called melanocytes. This cancer may grow and spread quickly and be more high-risk than basal and squamous skin cancers.

Adenocarcinoma (Paget disease of the penis): A very rare type of penile cancer, this disease begins with the sweat glands in the skin of the penis. It closely resembles carcinoma in situ of the penis.

Sarcoma: This type of cancer, also rare, starts in the blood vessels, smooth muscle or connective tissue cells within the penis.

With so many types of penile cancers, it may be confusing to understand their differences. It’s always best to consult a doctor and ask plenty of questions.

Penile cancer symptoms

Diagnosing penile cancer

In diagnosing penile cancer, the urologist or oncology care team may ask questions about the patient’s age, overall health, symptoms and medical history. They may also perform a physical examination and, later, a diagnostic test. These may include a biopsy, X-ray, magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) or computed tomography (CT) scan. If the doctor thinks there’s a chance the cancer has spread to nearby lymph nodes, an inguinal (groin) lymph node dissection may also be ordered.

Penile cancer treatment options

City of Hope approach to helping penile cancer patients maintain quality of life