Cancer of the penis

When a man sees a sore or a spot on his penis, he often thinks the worst. For some men, it's worry about a sexually acquired disease, but for many, it's concern about cancer of the penis. It's a rare disease in the United States, but since early diagnosis is so important, men should know how to tell whether a spot is worrisome. And it's also useful to understand why penile cancer is so much more common in other parts of the world.

Cancer of the penis

Who gets penile cancer?

Since about 1,500 cases are diagnosed in the United States each year, the disease accounts for less than 1% of all malignancies in American men. But it's much more common in Asia, Africa, and South America, where it constitutes 10%–20% of all male malignancies. There are three explanations for this wide disparity.

Circumcision. Penile cancer is almost unheard of in Jewish males, who are traditionally circumcised on the eighth day of life. It is only slightly more common in Muslims, who often delay circumcision until sometime between the ages of 3 and 13. But circumcision in adulthood is not protective. All in all, circumcision reduces the risk of penile cancer by over 70%, with infant circumcision the most beneficial.

To continue reading this article, you must login.
  • Research health conditions
  • Check your symptoms
  • Prepare for a doctor's visit or test
  • Find the best treatments and procedures for you
  • Explore options for better nutrition and exercise
Learn more about the many benefits and features of joining Harvard Health Online »