Penile cancer

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Malignant tumours of the penis

Malignant tumours of the penis are cancerous growths that have the potential to spread (metastasize) to other parts of the body.

Squamous cell carcinoma

The most common type of penile cancer is squamous cell carcinoma (SCC). About 95% of penile cancers develop from flat, scale-like cells called squamous cells. SCC can develop anywhere on the penis, but most develop on the foreskin (in uncircumcised men) or the glans. This type of cancer is typically slow growing. When found early, it is often curable.

There are several subtypes of SCC:

  • warty carcinoma (verruciform) and verrucous carcinoma
    • looks like a genital wart and may have a cauliflower-like appearance
    • usually slow growing, but they gradually enlarge and can spread deeply into surrounding tissue
    • rarely spread to lymph nodes or other parts of the body
    • often associated with human papillomavirus (HPV) infection
  • basaloid carcinoma
    • uncommon type of squamous cell penile cancer
    • fast growing
  • sarcomatoid carcinoma
    • fast growing

Rare malignant penile tumours

There are several rare types of penile cancer:

  • adenocarcinoma
    • develops from sweat glands (glandular cells) in the skin of the penis
    • occurs much less often than SCC
    • also called Paget’s disease of the penis
  • melanoma
    • develops from skin cells called melanocytes
    • usually develops on sun-exposed areas of skin, but sometimes develops on the penis
  • basal cell carcinoma
    • a type of non-melanoma skin cancer
    • slow growing and rarely spreads to other areas of the body
  • lymphoma
  • sarcoma
    • starts in the connective and supporting tissues of the body
    • tends to be fast growing
    • may include AIDS-related Kaposi sarcoma (KS)
      • AIDS (acquired immune deficiency syndrome)-related Kaposi sarcoma (KS) develops in people who are infected with human immunodeficiency virus (HIV).
      • AIDS-related KS can occur on many different parts of the body, including the penis.

human papillomavirus (HPV)

A type of virus that causes abnormal tissue growth (warts) and other changes to cells.

There are over 100 types of HPV. Most types of HPV cause harmless warts on the hands, fingers, feet and even the face. Some types of HPV cause genital warts, are associated with an increased risk of cervical cancer and may play a role in cancers of the anus, vagina, vulva, penis and oropharynx.


A type of cancer that starts in immune cells of the lymphatic system.

Lymphomas are classified as Hodgkin lymphoma and non-Hodgkin lymphoma.


A type of cancer that starts in connective tissues (tissue that surrounds and supports various organs in the body).

The most common forms of sarcoma develop in bone, cartilage, fat, muscle or blood vessels.

Kaposi sarcoma

A rare cancerous (malignant) tumour that starts in the blood vessels and causes slightly raised purple or brown spots on the skin.

Kaposi sarcoma most often affects the skin, but can also develop in the lungs, intestines or mucous membranes that line the mouth, nose and throat.

Kaposi sarcoma is associated with Kaposi sarcoma herpes virus (KSHV), or Human herpesvirus8 (HHV-8). It often develops in people with weakened immune systems, such as those with AIDS.


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