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 linked with a number of other conditions (described in What Are the Risk Factors for Penile Cancer?). Research is now being done to learn more about how these risk factors might 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 creates cancer-causing chemicals that spread throughout the body and can damage the DNA inside cells of the penis. DNA is the chemical in our cells that makes up our genes. (Genes control how our cells grow and divide.) DNA damage affecting genes that control cell growth can contribute to the development of 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.

Last Medical Review: March 30, 2015 Last Revised: February 9, 2016

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