The names or terms used to describe pre-cancerous lesions can be confusing.
The correct medical term is PeIN3 (Penile Intraepithelial Neoplasia 3) but there may be other names for these conditions that the medical team may use.
This is an HPV (Human Papilloma Virus) related lesion, typically a small plaque which may form on the penile shaft. It rarely progresses to penile cancer and can usually be treated by simple surgical removal or other minor surgical techniques.
Bowens disease/ Erythroplasia of Queryat
Bowens disease is found on the shaft skin of the penis and is not associated with the HPV virus.Erythroplasia of Queryat is found on the glans or foreskin of the penis and is more likely to progress to penile cancer.
Types of 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.
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.
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.
Other types of cancer such as cancer of the bladder and urinary tract, as well as squamous cell carcinoma can also affect or invade the urethra which can affect the penis. They will often be treated in the same way as more common types of penile cancer.
Last updated February 2021. Next review 2022..