Symptoms and diagnosis of penile cancer

sad older man

Symptoms of penile cancer

The most common symptoms of penile cancer include:

  • A growth or sore that doesn't heal within 4 weeks – it can look like a wart or blister
  • Bleeding from your penis or from under the foreskin
  • A foul-smelling discharge under the foreskin (not ejaculation)
  • Swelling that makes it difficult to draw back the foreskin (phimosis)
  • A change in the colour of the skin or foreskin to a blueish / brown colour
  • A rash or small crusty bumps on the penis
  • Growths on the penis that are bluish-brown
  • Lumps under the skin in the groin area

Changes in the penis skin are the most common symptom of penile cancer.

Other symptoms – particularly in advanced cancer – include:

  • Tiredness
  • Abdominal (tummy) pain
  • Achy bone pain
  • Weight loss

Can I be screened for penile cancer?

Testing for cancer when you have no symptoms is called screening. There is no national screening programme in Ireland. Contact your GP if you’re worried about penile cancer.

All these symptoms can be caused by conditions other than cancer. But it’s important to go to the GP and get any unusual changes checked out.

Diagnosing penile cancer

Your family doctor (GP) will talk to you about your symptoms and examine you. They will refer you to a urologist (specialist) if they think you need more tests.

A urologist is a doctor who specialises in treating problems with the testicles, penis, prostate, bladder and kidney.

Tests you might have include:

Blood tests

Blood tests – such as a full blood count – can help to check your general health.


Biopsy means taking a sample of tissue. Sometimes a biopsy is necessary to identify if the penile abnormality is a penile cancer. The biopsy can be one of two types:

  • An incisional biopsy – the doctor takes a small sample of the affected area.
  • An excisional biopsy – the doctor removes the whole of the affected area.

A pathologist will examine the sample under a microscope for cancer cells. It might take over a week for the biopsy results to come back. Read more about having a biopsy.

Fine needle aspiration

Your doctor uses a fine needle and syringe to take a sample of cells (biopsy). Read more about fine needle aspiration.

Sentinel lymph node biopsy

Cancer cells can sometimes spread to the lymph nodes close to the tumour site. Sentinel node biopsy is a test to find out if there are cancer cells in the lymph nodes near your cancer. Read more about sentinel lymph node biopsy.

PET scan

A PET scan uses a low dose of radioactive sugar to measure the activity in your cells. It is also used to diagnose or determine the stage of a number of different cancers. Read more about a PET scan.

CT scan

This is a special type of X-ray that gives a detailed, 3D picture of the tissues inside your body. You lie on a table that passes through a large doughnut-shaped machine. Read more about a CT (CAT) scan.

MRI (magnetic resonance imaging)

MRI uses magnetic energy to build up a picture of the tissues inside your body and can be used to scan any part of your body including your brain, lungs, bowels, penis etc. Read more about MRI.


An ultrasound uses sound waves to build up a picture of your internal tissues, and can be used to scan any part of your body. Read more about ultrasound.

For more information

Icon: Phone


1800 200 700

Icon: Email