Penile Cancer- Symptoms And Risk Factors

In most of the developed countries, penile cancer is an uncommon disease but in some countries, the prevalence of penile cancer is increasing such as in the regions of Asia, South America, and Africa. Penile cancer is a type of cancer that begins in the penis and it occurs when the normal cells of the penis begin to grow uncontrollably. The penis is the external male sex organ that consists of skin, nerves, blood vessels, and smooth muscle. A shaft is the main part of the penis and the head of the penis is known as the glans.

A penis is made up of many types of body tissues and each tissue contains different types of cells and penile cancer starts from these cells. There are different types of penile cancer and most of penile cancer begins from the cells known as squamous cells. Squamous cell cancer develops slowly and it can begin on any area of the penis but mainly it begins on the foreskin or the glans. Similarly, when cancer begins in the melanocytes (cells that make brownish color), it is known as melanoma. And when cancer begins in the basal cells, it is known as basal cell carcinoma.

Symptoms of Penile Cancer

The symptoms do not necessarily mean penile cancer, it can also be a symptom of any other underlying condition but some of the symptoms that are common and also occurs in people having penile cancer include:

1. Changes in the skin

Changes in the skin of the penis is considered to be the first sign of penile cancer and the changes in the skin may include a change in the skin color, small bumps, reddish rash, bluish brown growth and ulcer that might bleed.

2. Swelling

Swelling at the end of the penis is another possible sign of penile cancer. Also, if cancer spreads from the penis, it can result in swollen lymph nodes.

3. Lump under the skin in the groin area

Due to the swelling, lump under the skin of the lymph nodes can also be felt.  

Risk Factors for penile cancer

There are various risk factors that are associated with the development of penile cancer and some of them are as follows:

1. Phimosis

Phimosis is said to be the most important factor for penile cancer. Phimosis is defined as a lack of ability to retract the skin that covers the head of the penis and it results from the scarring, infection, and inflammation. The presence of phimosis increases the risk of developing penile cancer.

2. Cigarette smoking

Cigarette smoking is one of the factors that highly contributes to the development of penile cancer and this is because cigarette smoking contains constituents that act in presence of bacterias that are associated with irritation and infection to promote malignant transformation. Studies suggest that nitrosamine 4 is found in the urine of the smokers and it acts an important factor in developing penile cancer.

3. Injury to the penis

Any injury to the penis can also contribute to an invasive penile cancer and it is observed by various doctors that more episodes of balanitis are more common in people having penile cancer. Balanitis is defined as an inflammation at the end of the penis.

4. HPV infection

Numerous studies suggest that there is a relationship between human papillomavirus (HPV) and penile cancer. It is one of the most transmitted infection and it spreads from person to person through the skin to skin contact. High risk human papillomavirus is frequently found in penile cancer patients. The mechanism by which human papillomavirus leads to malignant transformation is mediated through two viral genes, E6 and E7.

5. Lack of circumcision

Circumcision protects men against penile cancer and according to observational studies, newly born males with circumcision are very less likely to develop penile cancer. Circumcision acts like a protector and this protective effect is likely due to the lack of accumulation of smegma that occurs from desquamated epithelial cells.


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Janet Fudge

Janet Fudge writes on general health topics for She holds a post-graduate diploma in Public Health with a major in epidemiology. During the outbreak of COVID-19, Janet actively volunteered in vaccination drives throughout the state of Iowa. She lives in Iowa with her husband and two children.