Types of Penile Cancer

This page explains some pre-cancerous condtions of the penis as well as penile cancer. Both are explained on this page.

Risk factors for penile cancer are explained on our introductory page here.


Pre-cancerous Conditions

There are several pre-cancerous conditions, which can affect the penis and may involve similar treatment to that which is used for penile cancer.

Pre-cancerous Lesions

The term used to describe pre-cancerous lesions can be confusing. The correct medical term is PeIN3 (Penile Intraepithelial Neoplasia 3) but your medical team may use another name.

Bowenoid Papulosis

This is an HPV (Human Papilloma Virus) related lesion, typically a small plaque which may form on the shaft of your penis. It rarely progresses to penile cancer and can usually be removed or treated with minor surgery.

Bowens Disease

Bowens disease is found on the shaft skin of the penis and is not associated with the HPV virus. Erythroplasia of Queryat is a type of Bowens Disease which is found on the glans (head) or foreskin of the penis. Erythroplasia of Queryat is more likely to progress to penile cancer.

Penile Cancer - Squamous Cell Carcinoma

This is the most common type of penile cancer, representing around 95% of cases.

Squamous cells are skin cells that change over time and become cancerous. This can happen, for instance, due to infection with Human Pappiloma Virus or HPV. Cells can become cancerous on any part of the penis but usually develop on the head of the penis (glans), or under, the foreskin.

This type of cancer has the potential to spread to other areas of the penis and sometimes to other parts of the body.

A rarer form of this type of cancer is verrucous carcinoma where the cells are slightly different to squamous cell carcinoma. With verrucous carcinoma, the 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. A useful diagram of the anatomy of the penis can be viewed here.

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 is the same as melanoma skin cancer and sometimes occurs on the surface of the penis. It is often thought that sun exposure is needed to contract malignant melanoma but this is not necessarily the case. 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

It is very unusual for malignant lymphoma to develop as the primary (first) cancer within the penis. It tends to be cancer which has spread from another area of the body such as the testicles.

Other Cancers

Other types of cancer can affect or invade the urethra and affect the penis. Some of these types of cancer are: cancer of the bladder, cancer of the urinary tract and squamous cell carcinoma which did not start in the penis. They will often be treated in the same way as more the common types of penile cancer.