Welcome to the latest installment of “Over 90 Percent of What Planned Parenthood Does,” a series on Planned Parenthood Advocates of Arizona’s blog that highlights Planned Parenthood’s diverse array of services — the ones Jon Kyl never knew about.
Today kicks off Men’s Health Week, which means it’s time to remind you that Planned Parenthood Arizona has plenty of men’s health services. Sexual and reproductive health are our bread and butter, and we’re here for you if you need condoms or routine STD screening, or if something is amiss in your nether regions and you’d like us to take a look! One thing we do is evaluate and treat penile skin lesions.
Is something amiss on your penis? We can check it out!
What is a lesion, anyway? “Lesion” is a general term that can refer to any kind of abnormality that appears on your skin or elsewhere in the body, like on an organ. Usually they’re well-defined, as in blisters, spots, bumps, warts, or what have you. A change of appearance on the penis can be caused by all sorts of things. Maybe it’s something minor, like an irritation or an allergic reaction. Or it could be a relatively benign dermatological condition, like pimples or skin tags.
But sometimes, an infectious agent might be at play. You might be suffering from a yeast infection, a sexually transmitted disease (STD), or even penile cancer. For the sake of your health — and your peace of mind — you should be evaluated by a health professional, just so you can know for sure what’s going on and receive treatment if necessary.
Yup, males can get yeast infections, too. While vaginal yeast infections are well-studied, yeast overgrowth in and on the penis doesn’t seem to have caught the attention of too many researchers. It’s a difficult malady to find information on — a quick Google search doesn’t net many reliable results, including a lot of less-than-legit-looking websites and promises of miracle cures.
Candida albicans, the fungus that causes yeast infections, loves living in any kind of warm and moist crevice, and it’s likely already calling your body Home, Sweet Home — its population is kept in check by other microorganisms populating your person. When it grows out of control, that’s when you’re dealing with a yeast infection.
While a yeast infection can rarely result from sexual transmission, they usually appear for other reasons. Antibiotics can predispose you to a yeast infection by killing off the aforementioned bacteria that were keeping C. albicans in check. Other health issues, like diabetes or HIV, can make it easier to develop a yeast infection.
In people with penises, a yeast infection can manifest as a rash, possibly with small red spots, and could cause itching or burning in the penis. Yeast infections can be treated with antifungal medications, often pills or perhaps a topical cream. During this time, refrain from sexual activity, and make sure your partner receives treatment, if needed, to prevent reinfection.
Sexually Transmitted Diseases
While STDs usually don’t have any symptoms at all, when they do, they could manifest as lesions on the penis:
- Syphilis: This bacterial infection can be easily cured, but left untreated it can cause serious damage. It often doesn’t have symptoms, but when it does, they can include a painless sore or ulcer, called a chancre, which contains a highly infectious liquid.
- Genital warts: Caused by “low-risk” (meaning it doesn’t cause cancer) human papillomavirus, genital warts are soft, flesh-colored bumps on the skin, which can take on a variety of different appearances — raised, flat, crusty, bumpy.
- Genital herpes: The most common symptom of genital herpes is a cluster of blistery sores in the genital area, including the penis. They can also appear on the buttocks or anus.
- Molluscum contagiosum: This virus can be transmitted sexually or nonsexually, through close, skin-to-skin contact. Symptoms can include small wartlike growths with an indentation in the middle.
- Chancroid: Rare in the United States, symptoms of chancroid can include a swollen, open sore on the genitals.
Most of us have heard of human papillomavirus, or HPV, in the context of cervical cancer. There is now a vaccine for HPV, which protects against the two high-risk HPV strains that are behind 70 percent of cervical cancers. When we speak of the importance of vaccinating boys and men against HPV, it is usually in the context of protecting females from catching HPV from a male partner. But HPV can affect males — a high-risk strain of HPV can cause cancer of the mouth, throat, anus, or penis.
Penile cancers strike just 1 out of 100,000 American males. Circumcision, especially when the procedure took place early in life, is protective against a variety of STDs, including HPV, the virus that causes 50 to 70 percent of penile cancers. In a country where 60 to 80 percent of men are circumcised, the rates of this cancer are low, and being uncircumcised is probably the highest risk factor. The year 2006 saw 1,530 diagnoses of penile cancer in the United States, with about 300 deaths, accounting for just 0.2 percent of cancers in men and 0.1 percent of cancer deaths in men.
Risk factors for penile cancer include:
- being uncircumcised
- poor penile hygiene
- phimosis (a condition in which the foreskin is difficult to retract, making it more difficult to maintain good hygiene)
- UV light treatments (e.g., to treat psoriasis on the penis)
- multiple sexual partners
- not using condoms during sexual activity
When treated early, stage 1 penile cancer has a high survival rate. Don’t let the fact that penile cancer is rare in the United States lull you into complacency. If something’s amiss, get it checked out!
If you’d like a sexual health professional to evaluate any penile skin lesions — or any other symptoms! — that are making you uneasy, make an appointment to come into a health center. Most problems can be easily treated, so you’ll be glad you gave us a visit. Check out our blog to learn about the other men’s health services we offer.