What Causes Penile Cancer?

Researchers are currently working to determine what causes penile cancer. Like most other cancers, penile cancer is thought to develop when the DNA of a healthy cell becomes damaged to the point where it cannot adequately control the cell’s growth. Healthy cells produce a tumor suppressor gene that helps regulate their division; certain triggers can turn this gene off and allow the mutated cells to divide uncontrollably. These abnormal cells can then accumulate into tumors that have the ability to spread throughout the rest of the body.

One potential trigger for the destruction of the tumor suppressor gene is the presence of E6 or E7 proteins, which are produced by the human papilloma virus (HPV). These proteins can block the function of the tumor suppressor genes, which may make the cells more likely to become cancerous. While many men with HPV never develop cancer, researchers are continuing to investigate what role these proteins play in the development of penile cancer.

Other research has helped medical professionals determine that:

  • Penile cancer is not genetic. Certain inherited traits can make a man more likely to develop cancer in his lifetime, but cancer is not passed down from parent to child.

  • Penile cancer is not infectious. Men who have penile cancer cannot catch cancer from, or transmit the disease to, his sexual partners.

  • Poor genital hygiene may partially contribute to the development of penile cancer, especially among uncircumcised men. Physicians recommend that uncircumcised men retract the foreskin to clean the entire penis, taking special care to remove smegma and other secretions on a regular basis.  

Moffitt’s oncologists can help explain more about what causes penile cancer and what you can do if you believe you are at risk. Referrals are not required to schedule an appointment; call 1-888-MOFFITT or submit a new patient registration form online.