A mole, also known as a nevus, is a small dark patch on the skin that is usually harmless. A mole forms when the cells that produce melanin (pigment) grow in a cluster on the outer layer of your skin instead of being distributed across a wider area.

Moles are quite common. You’re born with most of the moles you will have in life, though more can appear as you get older. An adult may have anywhere from 10 to 40 moles or more. They can appear anywhere on your body, including your penis.

While it can be a little unsettling to see any type of spot on your penis, a mole is normally a benign (noncancerous) spot that is unlikely to cause any symptoms or health problems. There are several other types of spots and bumps that can appear on your penis. Most are not dangerous, though you may not like them for cosmetic reasons.

Some mole-like spots may need treatment, so getting a medical evaluation is always recommended. Depending on the health risks involved, surgical removal or laser treatment may be possible. For many benign spots or bumps, you may be better off living with them as they are.

Along with moles, the other most common type of skin spot is a freckle. Freckles tend to be lighter and flatter than moles, which are usually darker and slightly raised. Freckles are small clusters of melanin. They may come and go depending on your exposure to the sun. Freckles also tend to be harmless. And yes, it’s perfectly normal to have a freckle or two on your penis.

Your penis may display other kinds of spots or growths, so it’s helpful to know how to identify these variations and what, if anything, you should do if you see them.

Conditions that may require treatment include:

Pearly penile papules

Papules are small, rounded growths that are white or pink. These benign bumps tend to appear in a row or double row around the head of the penis. They aren’t contagious, and they aren’t the result of a sexually transmitted disease (STD). They are, however, permanent.

No treatment is necessary, but if their appearance is bothersome, laser therapy can remove them. There may be some slight scarring.

Fordyce spots

Fordyce spots are tiny, white or yellowish bumps that can develop on the head or the shaft of the penis. These spots can also appear on a woman’s vulva, as well as on a person’s lips or cheeks. They’re harmless, not contagious, and present on a majority of adults.

Fordyce spots are a type of sebaceous gland. These are small skin glands that produce the oily substance sebum used to lubricate the skin. Laser treatments, electrosurgery, and other treatments have been used to treat Fordyce spots, however no treatment is necessary.

Tyson glands

Tyson glands are also tiny forms of sebaceous glands. These round, whitish bumps tend to form on the frenulum, which is the elastic section of skin that connects the foreskin to the penis. It’s often removed during a circumcision. Tyson glands are benign and require no treatment. Some cosmetic procedures, including laser therapy, may be appropriate.

Angiokeratomas

Angiokeratomas are small benign growths formed by dilated blood vessels. They can appear on the head of the penis, as well as the scrotum and around the groin area. They may be removed with treatments, such as laser therapy or cryoablation, a procedure that uses extreme cold to destroy unwanted tissue.

Lymphoceles

Your lymphatic system is part of your circulatory and immune systems. It helps to manufacture and deliver white blood cells to areas of the body fighting infection. It also carries substances filtered out of your bloodstream, such as plasma.

The fluid that travels throughout the lymphatic system is called lymph. A lymphocele is a small collection of lymph that forms when there is blockage in the lymphatic system. This blockage causes lymph to spread into surrounding tissue.

Lymphoceles are small bumps under the surface of your skin. They’re harmless, but may look troubling at first. Fortunately, lymphoceles tend to disappear on their own after a couple of days. If they linger, see a doctor. Certain topical creams or medications may help.

Skin tags

Skin tags are small, raised growths on the skin that are usually found around the eyelids, neck, armpits, and groin. They usually form as you get older. Skin tags are typically benign, though you may find them unsightly.

A skin tag is made up of collagen, a type of protein in your skin, and blood vessels. They can be removed with a variety of cosmetic procedures.

Conditions that definitely require treatment or at least a medical evaluation include:

Genital warts

Genital warts are bumps that form on and around your genitalia. They’re caused by a type of human papillomavirus (HPV). You can get genital warts from skin-on-skin contact with someone infected with the virus. However, it can sometimes take weeks or months for warts to appear after being exposed to HPV.

Cryotherapy, medicinal creams, and electrosurgery are all proven treatment methods. However, your own immune system may fight off HPV and the warts will go away on their own.

Molluscum contagiosum

Molluscum contagiosum is another highly contagious virus that leads to bumps on your skin. Small collections of flesh-colored bumps can appear on the penis or anywhere that comes in contact with infected skin or even infected clothes or towels.

Cryosurgery (using liquid nitrogen to freeze the bumps), laser surgery, and treatments with trichloroacetic acid may be used to remove them. Molloscum contagiosum can sometimes disappear without treatment, but it can take months for the bumps to vanish without treatment.

Scabies

Scabies is caused by little mites that burrow into your skin and lay their eggs there. The result is a reddish, raised bump that itches and is very contagious. Scabies usually appear in the armpits, thighs, breasts, penis, buttocks, elbow, waist, and in the webbing between the fingers.

Two commonly used topical treatments for scabies are permethrin cream and malathion lotion. The lotions and creams are placed on the area with bumps, as well as the rest of the body to help treat areas that may have scabies, but have not produced any symptoms yet.

Syphilis

Syphilis is a potentially serious STD that can cause open sores to form on and around your penis in the early stages of the disease. A rash can form on your torso as the disease progresses.

A strong course of antibiotics can cure syphilis, but damage to your heart, brain, or other organs can be permanent if syphilis isn’t treated right away. If syphilis progress to its later stages, it may not be curable.

Skin cancer

Most penile cancers start as skin cancers. The most common is squamous cell carcinoma, which usually develops on the foreskin or head of the penis. This is a slow-growing cancer that can often be cured if diagnosed early. Other less-common types of skin cancers that can affect the penis include:

  • melanoma
  • basal cell carcinoma
  • sarcoma

The first sign of skin cancer of the penis could be a change in the shape, size, color, or texture of a mole, or the appearance of a new mole or wart-like growth.

A key part of healthy skin care is routinely inspecting your body for changes in existing moles or other spots. A mole that changes over time could be a type of skin cancer, though that’s not always the case.

You should also look out for new bumps or changes in or underneath the skin of your penis, scrotum and around your genitals. Never pick at a bump or spot on your penis. It could cause infection or scarring.

Also, don’t apply an over-the-counter wart treatment or other medicinal cream without your doctor’s recommendation. Skin irritation and other complications may occur.

If you’re not sure about whether a mole or other spot on your penis or anywhere in your genital area is a concern, see a doctor soon. It’s better to hear that you’re fine than to not know and just hope everything is going to be okay.

You can start with your primary care physician or see a urologist. A urologist specializes in the urinary tract and the health of male reproductive organs.

You can always approach your doctor by simply saying that you’ve noticed bumps or what look like moles on your penis and you want to know what’s going on. These are common concerns, and ones that urologists deal with every day. Put aside any embarrassment you may have, and make an appointment soon.