Penile Cancer Risk Factors

Penile cancer is rare under the age of 50 but can affect younger men.


There are some factors which appear to increase the risk of developing penile cancer, which are listed below.

Human Papilloma Virus (HPV)

There are around two hundred distinct types of HPV virus. Its estimated that around 80% of the worlds population will come in to contact with some type of HPV during their lifetime. The more common types of HPV that people experience are types that can cause warts and verrucas and are spread by skin-to-skin contact.

Some types of HPV virus are considered high risk, and are linked to the development of cancer in the anus, penis, throat and the cervix of women. These are referred to as types 16 and 18. Often, the body’s immune system will kill the HPV virus but occasionally it can remain in the body for many years and can sometimes develop into pre-cancerous or cancerous conditions.

Practising safe sex using a condom can help reduce the risk of HPV as well as other Sexually Transmitted Infections (STIs).

About 50% of patients with  penile cancer show evidence of infection with the high-risk strains of HPV.

12- and 13-year-old boys (school Year 8) are now offered the HPV vaccine. It is also available for men who have sex with other men. For more information on HPV vaccination please click here.

The Presence of the Foreskin

Penile cancer is virtually unknown in men who were circumcised as a child. However, circumcision in later life does not reduce the risk of penile cancer. The risk of uncircumcised men developing penile cancer is greater if they also have phimosis (explained below).


Phimosis is a condition in which men are unable to fully retract (pull back) the foreskin. It can be caused by skin irritation or skin conditions  but can also affect some men from birth. If it is difficult to retract the foreskin men may not find it as easy to maintain a good level of hygiene  or to notice abnormal changes. Phimosis can lead to a build-up of substances under the foreskin that could later contribute to the development of penile cancer. Research suggests that men with phimosis are around ten times more at risk of developing penile cancer. Men who have phimosis, should talk to their GP for further advice.


Some studies have suggested that smoking may increase the chance of developing penile cancer. This may be  because harmful chemicals found in cigarette smoke is excreted in urine. In some men, especially those with phimosis (above) these chemicals may  cause abnormal changes in the penis.

Psoralen-UV-A Photochemotherapy (PUVA)

Psoralen-UV-A Photochemotherapy (PUVA) has been linked in some cases to the development of penile cancer.


Melanoma which is a type of skin cancer, can also develop on the penis and can be difficult to diagnose.People often think that melanoma is only caused by sun exposure but it can develop in areas untouched by the sun.