What Is Penile Cancer?

What is cancer?

Cancer is when cells in the body change (mutate) and grow out of control. To help you understand what happens when you have cancer, it helps to understand how your body works normally. Your body is made up of tiny building blocks called cells. Normal cells grow and multiply when your body needs them. They die out when they're damaged or your body does not need them any longer.

Cancer is made up of abnormal cells that grow, even though your body doesn't need them. In most cancers, the abnormal cells grow to form a lump or mass called a tumor. Sometimes cancer cells can spread to other parts of the body, where they form new tumors. This is called metastasis.

What is penile cancer?

Cancer that starts in cells in the penis is called penile cancer. Penile cancer is very rare in the U.S. Most penile cancer (about 95%) is squamous cell carcinoma. This means the cancer starts in the flat skin cells (squamous cells) of the penis. Most squamous cell penile cancers start on the foreskin or on the tip of the penis (glans). Squamous cell penile cancer typically grows slowly. It can usually be cured if it is found and treated early, when it's small and before it has spread.

About the penis

The penis is part of the external male genitalia. It contains many types of tissue, including skin, nerves, smooth muscle, and blood vessels. The urethra is inside the penis. The urethra is the tube through which urine and semen leave the body. The tip of the penis is called the glans. The foreskin (prepuce) covers the glans. Every male has a foreskin at birth. Circumcision is the removal of part or the entire foreskin on the penis.

Talk with your healthcare provider

If you have questions about penile cancer, talk with your healthcare provider. Your provider can help you understand more about this cancer.

Online Medical Reviewer: Jessica Gotwals RN BSN MPH
Online Medical Reviewer: Sabrina Felson MD
Online Medical Reviewer: Todd Gersten MD
Date Last Reviewed: 1/1/2023
© 2023 The StayWell Company, LLC. All rights reserved. This information is not intended as a substitute for professional medical care. Always follow your healthcare provider's instructions.