Do we know what causes penile cancer?
The exact cause of most penile cancers is not known. However, scientists have found that the disease is associated with a number of other conditions (described in the section called "What are the risk factors for penile cancer?"). A great deal of research is now under way to learn more about how these risk factors cause cells of the penis to become cancerous.
For example, research has shown that normal cells regulate themselves by making substances called tumor suppressor gene products to keep them from growing too fast and becoming cancers. Two proteins (E6 and E7) made by high-risk types of human papilloma virus (HPV) can block the function of tumor suppressor gene products in cells, which may make them more likely to become cancerous.
Smoking produces cancer-causing chemicals that spread throughout the body and can damage the DNA of cells of the penis. (DNA is the chemical in each of our cells that makes up our genes -- the instructions for how our cells grow and divide.) DNA damage affecting genes that regulate cell growth can contribute to the development of cancer.
Last Medical Review: 05/02/2012
Last Revised: 01/17/2013