Penile Cancer: The Basics

Author: Marisa Healy, BSN, RN
Last Reviewed: December 18, 2023

Penile cancer is caused by cells growing out of control. As the cells grow, they form a tumor. There are a few types of penile cancer, but the most common is squamous cell cancer, which starts on the skin of the penis.


  • Being uncircumcised (foreskin in tact).
  • A tight foreskin that does not retract (pull back).
  • Poor hygiene.
  • HPV (Human Papillomavirus- A virus that can cause warts in the groin area) or HIV infection.


There are no screening tests to look for penile cancer. If a man finds any new mark, wart, blister, sore, or white patch, he should talk to his healthcare provider.

Signs and Symptoms of Penile Cancer

  • New lump, mass, or ulcer on the penis.
  • Swollen lymph node in the groin (the area around the penis).

Diagnosis of Penile Cancer

When your healthcare provider thinks you may have penile cancer, tests will be ordered. These tests may be:

  • Biopsy: A piece of the penile tissue is taken to look for cancer cells.
  • Cystoscopy: A small camera is put through the opening of the penis and into the bladder to look for the spread of cancer (called metastasis).
  • CT, MRI, or ultrasound may be done to check for spread of the cancer.

Staging Penile Cancer

To guide treatment, penile cancer is "staged." This stage is based on:

  • Size and location of the tumor.
  • If there are cancer cells in the lymph nodes.
  • If there are cancer cells in other parts of the body.

Stages range from stage I (1) to stage IV (4). The stage and type of penile cancer will help your provider decide on your treatment plan.


Treatments may include:

  • Surgery to remove the cancer on the skin of the penis or remove the affected part of the penis.
  • Radiation can be used instead of surgery, alone, or with chemotherapy.
  • Brachytherapy.
  • Chemotherapy can either go into your blood stream (by IV) or directly onto the cancer (called topical).

Your provider may suggest a combination of treatments for the best result.

This article is a basic guide to penile cancer. You can learn more about penile cancer and treatments by using the links below.

Penile Cancer: Staging and Treatment

Surgical Procedures: Surgery and Staging for Penile Cancer

Surgical Procedures: Penectomy to Treat Penile Cancer

Algan, O and Crook J. Primary and Adjuvant Radiation Therapy in the Management of Penile Cancer. 2014. P173-198.

American Cancer Society. Penile Cancer. Found at:

Hegarty PK et al. Penile cancer: organ-sparing techniques. British Journal of Urology. 2014; 114:799-805.

National Institute of Health. National Cancer Institute Penile Cancer Treatment (PDQ®). Found at:

NCCN. Guidelines Version 2.2021. American Joint Committee on Cancer (AJCC) TNM Staging System for Penile Cancer (8th ed., 2017)

Van Poppel H., et al. Penile Cancer: ESMO Clinical Practice Guidelines for diagnosis, treatment and follow-up. Annals of Oncology. 2013. 24:115-124.

Wang J et al. Treatment for Metastatic Penile Cancer After First-line Chemotherapy Failure: Analysis of Response and Survival Outcomes. Urology. 2015 May;85(5):1104-1110.

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