Getting circumcised, receiving a human papillomavirus (HPV) vaccine, and having sex with a condom or other barrier method can lower your risk of penile cancer. Having good hygiene and quitting smoking can also help.
Penile cancer is a relatively rare form of cancer in the United States. The American Cancer Society estimates that about
Experts have identified a number of risk factors for penile cancer. Some of these risk factors, such as age, can’t be controlled. But other factors, such as hygiene practices and smoking, point to lifestyle changes that you can make to lower your risk of penile cancer.
Since human papillomavirus (HPV) and HIV are strongly associated with penile cancer, lowering your risk of contracting either condition can help prevent penile cancer. You could do this by getting the HPV vaccine and having sex with a condom or other barrier method.
If you’re uncircumcised, you’re
Circumcision may also decrease your risk of:
- smegma buildup, which can cause chronic inflammation, a known risk of penile cancer
- phimosis, which increases your risk of developing penile cancer by
- balanitis, another inflammatory condition that increases
- HIV, which may increase your risk of penile cancer
by eight times
- HPV, which is associated with the development of 45–80% of penile cancers
If you want to decrease your risk of developing penile cancer, and you weren’t circumcised at birth, it’s possible to get circumcised as an adult. Circumcision is a deeply personal choice, and you’ll likely consider a number of medical, cultural, and other factors while considering circumcision.
But as mentioned, it’s likely not the foreskin itself but the associated health conditions, such as phimosis and HPV, that can increase your risk of developing cancer. If you don’t want to get circumcised, there are other steps you can take to lower your risk of developing those conditions.
Regardless of whether you’re circumcised or not, it’s important to practice good penile hygiene and sex with a condom or other barrier method. This will help prevent sexually transmitted infections (STIs) and other reproductive health conditions.
There’s no approved test for HPV in people who were assigned male at birth.
But you can still get an HPV vaccine. This vaccine can lower your risk of contracting HPV, especially the strains of HPV associated with cancer. According to the
It’s generally recommended that you receive the HPV vaccine around age 12 or before becoming sexually active. But the vaccine may still be effective in people who are already sexually active.
At present, you can get the HPV vaccine
Cleaning your penis — correctly and frequently — may lower your risk of developing penile cancer. Wash your penis with warm water, especially under the foreskin if you have one.
Good genital hygiene can prevent smegma buildup. Smegma is naturally secreted by your penis. It’s not harmful in itself, but if you don’t clean it frequently, it may become thick, causing pain and inflammation of the penis. Chronic inflammation is a risk factor for penile cancer.
It’s important to practice good hygiene whether you’re circumcised or not.
Tobacco use can increase your risk of developing several kinds of cancer, including penile cancer.
As mentioned, STIs — particularly HPV and HIV — are associated with an increased risk of penile cancer. You can lower your chances of contracting an STI by practicing safe sex.
Practicing safe sex can include:
- using barrier methods, such as condoms and dental dams, every time you engage in sexual activity
- ensuring that you’re using condoms correctly
- using condom-safe lubricant and avoiding oil-based lubes with latex condoms
- getting tested for HIV and STIs with your partner before having sex
- avoiding sexual contact when you’re under the influence of alcohol or drugs
- washing sex toys before and after sexual contact
You may also consider using pre-exposure prophylaxis (PrEP). PrEP is a medication that someone who is HIV-negative can take to lower their risk of contracting HIV.
One of the first symptoms of penile cancer is usually a bump or lump on the penis. It may bleed, be sore, or have an unusual color. It might also be small and hard to notice.
Other common symptoms of penile cancer include:
- a burning sensation when you urinate, or in general
- a rash, especially under the foreskin
- an ulcer (sore) that may bleed
- bleeding on the head of the penis or under the foreskin
- changes in the color of the penis (discoloration)
- flat, bluish-brown growths
- discharge, especially foul-smelling discharge
- irritation or itching of the skin
- small, crusty bumps
- swollen lymph nodes in the groin
- thickening of the penile skin
If you have any of the above symptoms, it’s a good idea to make an appointment with a doctor as soon as possible. Penile cancer is rare, but your chances of survival increase drastically if it’s detected early.
In addition, if your symptoms aren’t caused by penile cancer, it’s still important that you receive a diagnosis and treatment as soon as possible.
You’re most at risk of developing penile cancer if you:
- are over
- are uncircumcised
- don’t clean the area under the foreskin properly
- have a history of:
- HPV or HIV
- lichen sclerosus
- have received psoriasis treatment with medications called psoralens and an ultraviolet light source
- live in a region with poor sanitation
- smoke cigarettes
Although there are risk factors here that you can’t control, such as your age, there are factors you have more control over, such as whether you smoke cigarettes. Certain lifestyle changes can lower your risk of developing penile cancer.
The CDC estimates that approximately
There’s no test for HPV for people who were assigned male at birth. As such, it’s very possible that you’ve had HPV without knowing it.
You could lower your chances of getting HPV by:
vaccinated against HPV
- having sex with a condom or other barrier method
- getting tested for STIs with your partner before having sex (if your partner was assigned female at birth, they can be tested for HPV)
If you suspect you have or have had HPV, you can lower your chances of developing penile cancer by:
- quitting smoking if you smoke
- cleaning your penis regularly to prevent smegma buildup
- continuing to have sex with a condom or other barrier method to lower your chances of contracting HIV (another risk factor for penile cancer)
- getting medical attention if you have any conditions affecting your penis
You can also speak with a doctor about getting screened for penile cancer.
How likely is HPV to cause penile cancer?
Although HPV is common, penile cancer isn’t. So, although it’s a good idea to lower your risk of developing HPV, having HPV doesn’t automatically mean you’ll get penile cancer.
According to the American Cancer Society, the overall 5-year relative survival rate for penile cancer is about
This means that people who have penile cancer are about 65% as likely as people who don’t have penile cancer to live for at least 5 years after receiving their diagnosis.
But the survival rate depends on how far the cancer has spread. The 5-year relative survival rates are as follows:
- localized (when the cancer is only found in the penis):
- regional (when the cancer is found in the penis and surrounding tissues):
- distant (when the cancer has spread to far-away tissues):
These statistics are based on people who received a diagnosis of penile cancer between 2012 and 2018. With the advent of new cancer treatments, these survival rates may increase in the future. Early diagnosis can improve your outlook.
There are a number of ways to lower your risk of developing penile cancer. Quitting smoking if you smoke, having good hygiene practices, and having safe with a condom or other barrier method can help prevent penile cancer, as can circumcision and getting an HPV vaccination.
If you have a lump on your penis or another symptom of penile cancer, consider making an appointment to see a doctor as soon as you can.