Penile cancer

The exact cause of penis cancer is unknown. It seems to be less common in men who have had all or part of their foreskin removed (been circumcised) soon after birth. This might be because men who have not been circumcised may find it more difficult to pull back the foreskin enough to clean thoroughly underneath. The human papilloma virus (HPV) that causes penile warts also increases the risk of penis cancer.

Some skin conditions that affect the penis may go on to develop into cancer if they are left untreated. It's important to see your doctor if you notice white patches, red scaly patches or red moist patches of skin on your penis.

Cancer of the penis isn't infectious and can't be passed on to other people. Currently, doctors don't think it is caused by an inherited faulty gene and so other members of your family don't have an increased risk of developing it.

Symptoms of penile cancer

The first signs of penis cancer are often a change in colour of the skin, or skin thickening. Later signs may include a growth or sore on the penis - especially on the head of the penis (glans) or the foreskin, but also sometimes on the shaft of the penis. There may be a discharge or bleeding. Most penile cancers are painless.

Sometimes the cancers appear as flat, bluish-brown growths, or as a red rash, or small crusty bumps. Often the cancers are only visible when the foreskin is pulled back.

These changes may occur with conditions other than cancer. Penis cancer is easier to treat if it's diagnosed early, so if you have any worries it's best to go to your doctor straight away.

*Information provided by Macmillan cancer support

At The Christie, the genito urinary cancer group treat penile cancers.

Patient information

We have a number of patient information booklets related to penile cancer:

Last updated: August 2022