Cancer Institute A national cancer institute
designated cancer center

Penile Cancer Risk Factors

Certain factors can make you more likely to get penile cancer than another man. These are called risk factors. However, the presence of one or more risk factors does not mean that you will get penile cancer. In fact, you can have many risk factors and still not get cancer. On the other hand, you can have no known risk factors and get penile cancer. Doctors are not sure what exactly causes penile cancer but there are some possible risk factors.

If you agree with one or more of these bolded statements, you may be at risk for penile cancer.

I am a man infected with human papillomavirus (HPV).
Being infected with the sexually transmitted disease human papillomavirus (HPV) may put you at greater risk for penile cancer. There are many subtypes of HPV. Some cause genital warts, while others seem to increase the risk for certain cancers, including penile cancer.

I smoke.
Men who smoke are more at risk for getting penile cancer than those who don’t. If you are infected with HPV and you smoke, you are at an even greater risk. Doctors believe that the cancer-causing chemicals in cigarettes somehow damage the DNA of cells in the penis and may lead to penile cancer.

I am a man with phimosis.
A man with phimosis has foreskin on his penis that is difficult to retract or is constricted. Phimosis can cause a buildup of smegma, which is an oily, cheese-like secretion under the foreskin and around the glans. When you have phimosis, you may be less able to properly and routinely clean your penis. This can raise your risk of penile cancer.

I've been treated with ultraviolet light therapy for psoriasis. 
Men who have been treated with drugs called psoralens followed by ultraviolet A light therapy, abbreviated as PUVA, may be at a slightly higher risk for penile cancer. Because of this increased risk, men being treated with PUVA now have their genitals covered during treatments.

I am older than 55.
About 80 percent of penile cancer cases are diagnosed in men over the age of 55.

I have AIDS.
Men who have been diagnosed with acquired immunodeficiency syndrome (AIDS) may be at a higher risk of penile cancer. Although this may be caused by your lowered immune response, lifestyle factors may also play a role.

I am not circumcised.
Circumcision is the removal of part or all of the foreskin on the penis. This process can be done at birth or later on in life. Researchers have suggested that this practice provides some protection against cancer of the penis by helping to improve hygiene. Although circumcision appears to reduce the risk for penile cancer if it is done shortly after birth, having the foreskin removed later (as an adult) does not lower this risk.

Prevention

There is no definite way to prevent cancer of the penis. These are some things you can do that may lower your risks:

Can I get checked for penile cancer before I have symptoms?
No standard screening process is used to check for penile cancer. However, you can help protect yourself by routinely checking for any skin changes, such as warts, sores, or blisters. Many men may not see a doctor about such changes because of embarrassment or other reasons. If you notice any changes on the skin of your foreskin, glans, or shaft of your penis, you should tell your doctor right away. 

Stanford Medicine Resources:

Footer Links: