Can Penile Cancer Be Prevented?

The large variations in penile cancer rates throughout the world suggest that many penile cancers can be prevented. The best way to reduce the risk of penile cancer is to avoid known risk factors. (See Risk Factors for Penile Cancer.) But some men with penile cancer have no known avoidable risk factors, so it’s not possible to prevent this disease completely..

Circumcision

In the past, circumcision (removing the foreskin on the penis) was suggested as a way to lower penile cancer risk. This was based on studies that reported much lower penile cancer rates among circumcised men than among uncircumcised men. But in some studies, the protective effect of circumcision wasn't seen after factors like smegma and phimosis were taken into account. Still, some experts have said that circumcision prevents penile cancer.

In the US, the risk of penile cancer is low even among uncircumcised men. Men who aren’t circumcised can help lower their risk of penile cancer by practicing good genital hygiene.

Genital hygiene

Perhaps the most important factor in preventing penile cancer in uncircumcised men is good genital hygiene. Uncircumcised men need to pull back (retract) the foreskin and clean the entire penis. If the foreskin is constricted and hard to retract (this is called phimosis), a doctor may be able to prescribe a cream or ointment that can make it easier to do so. If this doesn’t work the doctor may cut the skin of the foreskin in a procedure called a dorsal slit to make retraction easier.

HPV infection

HPV is very common, so having sex with even one other person can put you at risk. A man can have an HPV infection for years without any symptoms, so the absence of visible warts can’t be used to tell if someone has HPV. Even when someone doesn’t have warts (or any other symptom), he (or she) can still be infected with HPV and pass the virus to somebody else.

To earn a lot more about HPV, including what you can do to help prevent it, see the HPV section of our website.

Tobacco use

Tobacco use also increases penile cancer risk, so not using any form of tobacco might lower that risk. Quitting tobacco or never starting to use it in the first place is a good way to reduce your risk of many diseases, including penile cancer.

The American Cancer Society medical and editorial content team
Our team is made up of doctors and master's-prepared nurses with deep knowledge of cancer care as well as journalists, editors, and translators with extensive experience in medical writing.

American Society of Clinical Oncology. Penile Cancer: Risk Factors and Prevention. 8/2017. Accessed at www.cancer.net/cancer-types/penile-cancer/risk-factors-and-prevention on May 25, 2018.

Douglawi A, Masterson TA. Updates on the epidemiology and risk factors for penile cancer. Transl Androl Urol. 2017;6(5):785-790.

StatPearls. Engelsgjerd JS, LaGrange CA. Cancer, Penile. Accessed at www-ncbi-nlm-nih-gov.proxy.library.emory.edu/books/NBK499930/ on May 25, 2018.

Last Medical Review: October 19, 2017 Last Revised: October 19, 2017

American Cancer Society medical information is copyrighted material. For reprint requests, please see our Content Usage Policy.