The following conditions which may affect the penis are regarded as pre-cancerous and if left untreated may progress to penile cancer.

Bowens Disease and Bowenoid  Papulosis

Bowen’s disease is a disease that tends to affect older people and is a type of superficial skin cancer which is linked to sun exposure, HPV 16, chronic skin injury or a low immune system. It can affect the genitalia in men including the penis and may appear as a red, scaly patch on the skin. When it affects the penis it is generally referred to as Bowenoid papulosis.

Erythroplasia of Queryat

This is a name that is given to cancer cells that are situated on the surface of the penis but have not progressed below the skin. However, if left untreated they are likely to progress to more invasive penile cancer. It usually has the appearance of a velvety red patch.

Both of the above diseases when they affect the penis are also referred to as Penile Intraepithelial Dysplasia or PIN and if not treated can progress to penile cancer. 

Squamous cell carcinoma

The most common type of penile cancer is called squamous cell carcinoma. Around 95% of penile cancer will be of this type. Squamous cells are skin cells that can change over time (for instance due to infection with HPV) and become cancerous. They can become cancerous on any part of the penis but usually develop on or under the foreskin. This type of cancer has the potential to spread to other areas around the penis and sometimes to other parts of the body. A rarer form of this type of penile cancer is called verrucous carcinoma. The cells of this type of cancer are slightly different to Squamous cell carcinoma and cancer tends to progress more slowly and is less likely to spread to other areas of the body.

Squamous cell carcinoma can also develop within the urethra and then affect the penis itself.

Basal cell penile cancer

Basal cells are skin cells from the outer lining of the skin which may change and become cancerous. Less than 2% of penile cancers are basal cell cancers.

Malignant Melanoma

This cancer sometimes occurs on the surface of the penis and is the same type of melanoma skin cancer. However exposure to sunlight is not necessarily needed for skin cells to become cancerous. Malignant melanoma accounts for less than 1% of penile cancers.


About 1% of penile cancers are sarcomas. These are cancers that develop in the tissues that support and connect the body, such as blood vessels, muscle, and fat.

Malignant Lymphoma

This type of cancer is extremely rare in developing as a primary or initial cancer within the penis. It tends to be cancer which has spread from another area of the body such as the testicles.

Transitional cell carcinoma

This is a type of cancer that causes most bladder cancers. Bladder cancer can sometimes invade the urethra or water pipe in a man which can lead to healthy tissue in the penis becoming affected.


Last updated 21/1/17 Next review July 2017

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