Can Penile Cancer Be Found Early?

There are no widely recommended screening tests for penile cancer, but many penile cancers can be found early, when they're small and before they have spread to other parts of the body.

Almost all penile cancers start in the skin, so they're often noticed early. Cancers that start under the foreskin may not be seen as quickly, especially if a man has phimosis (constriction of the foreskin). Some penile cancers cause symptoms that could also be caused by a disease other than cancer.

Even if a man sees or feels something abnormal, he may not recognize it as something that needs medical attention right away. You should see a doctor if you find a new redness, growth, or other change in your penis, even if it's not painful. Things like warts, blisters, sores, ulcers, white patches, or other abnormal areas need to be checked by a doctor. Most are not cancer, but they may be caused by an infection or some other condition that needs to be treated.

Some men avoid going to the doctor for lesions (changes) on their penis. In fact, many put off seeking treatment for a year or more after they first notice the problem. Don't let embarrassment or fear keep you from having these changes checked. Most penile cancers are easy to treat in the early stages.

If a cancer is found early, it can often be removed with little or no damage to the penis. But if it's not diagnosed until later, part of or all of the penis may need to be removed to treat the cancer. More advanced cancers are also more likely to require other, more invasive treatments, and may even be life threatening.

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.

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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