What Causes Penile Cancer?

The exact cause of most penile cancers is not known. But scientists have found that it's linked with a number of other conditions. Research is being done around the world to learn more about how these risk factors might cause cells of the penis to become cancer.

For instance, research has shown that normal cells control 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 papillomavirus (HPV) can block the way tumor suppressor gene products work in cells. This allows the cells to start growing out of control, which might make them more likely to become cancer.

Tobacco use has been linked to penile cancer. It creates cancer-causing chemicals that spread throughout the body and can damage the DNA inside cells, such as the cells of the penis. DNA is the chemical in our cells that makes up our genes. (Genes control how our cells grow and divide.) When DNA damage affects the genes that control cell growth, it can lead to cancer.

See Genetics and Cancer to learn more about the complex link between genes and cancer.

The American Cancer Society medical and editorial content team

Our team is made up of doctors and oncology certified nurses with deep knowledge of cancer care as well as journalists, editors, and translators with extensive experience in medical writing.

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

National Cancer Institute. Penile Cancer Treatment (PDQ®)–Patient Version. May 4, 2018. Accessed at www.cancer.gov/types/penile/patient/penile-treatment-pdq on May 25, 2018.

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: June 25, 2018 Last Revised: June 25, 2018

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