Growths on the penis are sometimes caused by infections. One example is syphilis (see Sexually Transmitted Diseases: Syphilis), which may cause flat pink or gray growths (condylomata lata). Also, certain viral infections can produce one or more small, firm, raised skin growths (genital warts, or condylomata acuminata) or small, firm, dimpled growths (molluscum contagiosum).
Skin cancer can occur anywhere on the penis, but it most commonly occurs at the glans penis (the cone-shaped end of the penis), especially its base. Cancers affecting the skin of the penis, uncommon in the United States, are even rarer in men who have been circumcised. The cause of cancer of the penis may be long-standing irritation, usually under the foreskin. Squamous cell carcinoma (see Skin Cancers: Squamous Cell Carcinoma) occurs most commonly. Early forms of cancer that are less common include Bowen's disease (see Skin Cancers: Bowen's Disease), Paget's disease (see Skin Cancers: Paget's Disease of the Nipple), and erythroplasia of Queyrat.
Cancer usually first appears as a painless, reddened area with sores that do not heal for weeks. Erythroplasia of Queyrat usually occurs in uncircumcised men. It produces a discrete, reddish, velvety area on the penis, usually on or at the base of the glans penis.
To diagnose cancer of the penis, doctors remove a tissue sample for examination under a microscope (biopsy).
To treat early or small cancers, doctors prescribe a cream containing fluorouracil or remove the cancer and some normal surrounding tissue with a laser or during surgery. For other cancers, doctors surgically remove the cancer, sparing as much of the penis as possible. When a lot of tissue is removed, the penis needs to be rebuilt surgically.
In most men, cancers are small and have not spread. These men survive for many years after treatment. Most men with cancer that has spread die within 5 years.
Last full review/revision October 2008 by Paul D. Lui, MD