What is penile cancer?
Penile cancer can occur on the foreskin, the glans (head) or shaft of the penis.
There are a few different types of cancer that can affect the penis, which may need different treatments1.
Penile cancer is diagnosed in 1 in 125,000 Australian men each year2. Most cases (more than 95%) are squamous cell carcinomas (a type of skin cancer that affects the outer layer of the skin (the epidermis), which can be easily cured if caught early.
Most cases of penile cancer occur in older males3.
Symptoms of penile cancer
Signs of penile cancer can include:
- A lump or sore on the foreskin, glans or shaft of the penis that doesn’t go away after two weeks
- Bleeding from the penis or under the foreskin
- A smelly discharge or hard lump under the foreskin
- Changes in the colour or thickness of the skin of the penis or foreskin
- Pain or swelling of the glans of the penis
- Pain in the shaft of the penis.
Causes of penile cancer
Abnormal development of cells in the foreskin, glans or shaft of the penis can form a cancerous tumour that can spread to other parts of the body.
The cause of penile cancer in individual men is often unknown4, but some things are known to increase the risk of penile cancer, including:
- Long-term balanoposthitis
- Poor hygiene
- Number of sexual partners
- Ultraviolet (UV) light exposure.
Diagnosis of penile cancer
Your doctor will ask you some questions, perform an examination and refer you for some tests to diagnose penile cancer. You might need a blood test, collection of a tissue sample (biopsy) or scan1.
Treatment of penile cancer
If you’re diagnosed with penile cancer, your doctor will refer you to a urologist as a first step.
Surgery, radiation therapy and chemotherapy may be used to treat penile cancer, depending on the type and stage of the cancer1.
Prevention of penile cancer
You can prevent your risk of penile cancer4 by:
- Practising good personal hygiene
- Getting vaccinated against human papillomavirus (HPV)
- Not smoking
- Avoiding UV exposure
- Getting treatment for inflammation that affects the genitals.
Circumcision in childhood or adolescence may reduce the risk of penile cancer by preventing foreskin problems that can occur if you don’t practise good hygiene5.
Health effects of penile cancer
Eight out of every 10 cases of penile cancer are curable but there may be long-term effects on quality of life and sexual function6.
What to do about penile cancer
If you notice any changes to the skin of your penis or experience any penile pain, you should see your doctor. The sooner you seek help, the earlier you can be diagnosed and start treatment.
What questions should I ask my doctor about penis cancer?
- What type of penile cancer do I have?
- How far has the cancer spread?
- What are the treatment options, and which do you think might be best for me?
- What are the side effects and long-term consequences of treatment?
- What can I do to achieve the best possible outcome of treatment?
- How will I know if the cancer comes back?
 Cancer Council Australia, 2021. Understanding Penile Cancer – A guide for people affected by cancer. https://www.cancer.org.au/assets/pdf/penile-cancer-factsheet
 Australian Institute of Health and Welfare 2019. Cancer in Australia 2019. https://www.aihw.gov.au/reports/cancer/cancer-in-australia-2019/summary
 Sewell et al., 2015. Trends in penile cancer: a comparative study between Australia, England and Wales, and the US. SpringerPlus
 Minhas et al., 2010. Penile Cancer—Prevention and Premalignant Conditions. Urology
 Larke et al., 2011. Male circumcision and penile cancer: a systematic review and meta-analysis. Cancer Causes & Control
 Hakenberg et al., 2015. EAU Guidelines on Penile Cancer: 2014 Update. European Urology
Penis problems fact sheet