Causes and risk factors of penile cancer

Certain factors may increase the risk of penile cancer. These can include having human papilloma virus (HPV), having a tight foreskin, smoking, certain skin conditions, and being over the age of 50.

What are risk factors?

The exact cause of cancer of the penis is not known. There are certain things that can increase the risk of developing penile cancer (cancer of the penis). These are called risk factors. Having a risk factor does not mean you will get cancer. And not having a risk factor does not mean that you will not get it.

If you are worried about penile cancer and would like to talk to someone, we're here. You can:

The human papilloma virus (HPV)

HPV is a common virus that most sexually active people have been exposed to. Some types of HPV increase the risk of certain cancers. But most people with HPV never develop cancer.

HPV infection is often found in penile cancer. Some types of HPV cause genital warts, which increase the risk of penile cancer.

Having a tight foreskin

Penile cancer is more common if you have a tight foreskin that does not pull back easily (phimosis). The reason for this is not known. It may be because having a tight foreskin can make it difficult to pull back the skin to clean the penis.

Penile cancer is less common if you are circumcised (have all or part of your foreskin removed).


Smoking can increase the risk of penile cancer.

Certain skin conditions

Some skin conditions that affect the penis, such as lichen sclerosus, may develop into cancer if they are not treated.

Always see your GP if you have:

  • white or red scaly patches on the head of the penis
  • moist red patches of skin on the penis.


Most penile cancer is diagnosed in those over the age of 50.

About our information

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    This information has been written, revised and edited by Macmillan Cancer Support’s Cancer Information Development team. It has been reviewed by expert medical and health professionals and people living with cancer. It has been approved by Senior Medical Editor, Dr Ursula McGovern, Consultant Medical Oncologist.

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