Over 90 Percent of What Planned Parenthood Does, Part 13: Treating Penile Skin Lesions

MichelangeloWelcome 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.

Yeast Infections

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.

Penile Cancer

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
  • smoking
  • 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.

5 thoughts on “Over 90 Percent of What Planned Parenthood Does, Part 13: Treating Penile Skin Lesions

  1. Pingback: STD Awareness: Can Oral Sex Cause Throat Cancer? | Planned Parenthood Advocates of Arizona | Blog

  2. The American Cancer Society does not recommend circumcision as any means of prevention.

    “Fatalities caused by circumcision accidents may approximate the mortality rate of penile cancer.”

    “Perpetuating the mistaken belief that circumcision prevents cancer is inappropriate.”

    – copy of their letter to the AAP:

    Further penile cancer mostly occurs at the circumcision cut whereas on the intact penis, the foreskin. So you see the benefit here the foreskin cancer can be partially of all cut off but the circ. cut cancer means cutting off the shaft skin which further cripples the penis until a graft from the forearm is made.

    Phimotic men can clean their penis fine because almost always they can retract when flaccid. In the rare male who can not retract when flaccid, he can easily softly shoot water into the prepuce.

    And the thing is, the intact handles his penis using the penile skin thereby not transferring germs from his hands onto the mucosa. But the circumcised male often holds his penis at the mucosa. Which is better?

    PP says it educates. It very much missinforms.

    Ps. your Glossary makes it seem like the glans is the sensitive part of the penis, but makes no mention of what is the most sensitive parts the Ridged Band and Frenular Delta. The glans only has 15% of the total specialized pleasure receptors, which is only 5% of the total receptors in the glans, 95% are rudimentary pain /thermal receptors. Not sensitive in pleasure as PP infers. Please update your information.

    • The copy of that letter you linked to was posted on your personal Facebook page, not the official website of the American Cancer Society. When I try to find a legitimate copy via Google, I can only find it reprinted on anti-circumcision sites. How do we know it was actually written by the American Cancer Society? Also, that letter is dated 1996. In the two decades that have followed, however, more epidemiological evidence has linked circumcision to reduced cancer risk. Here’s something a little more recent, from 2011. And here’s something from 2013.

      Not being circumcised is a risk factor for penile cancer. You can read more about it on the American Cancer Society‘s actual website, which was updated in April of 2015. In mentioning it as a risk factor, the American Cancer Society was not taking a stance for or against circumcision. (Neither was I when I wrote this article.)

      Medical societies other than the American Cancer Society have statements on circumcision. For example, the American Academy of Pediatrics say that the benefits of circumcision outweigh the risks, but still hold that the decision is best left to the parents, to be made in accordance with their beliefs.

      So you see the benefit here the foreskin cancer can be partially of all cut off but the circ. cut cancer means cutting off the shaft skin which further cripples the penis until a graft from the forearm is made.

      I can’t follow what you’re trying to say here.

      I also can’t comment on whether a man’s circumcision status influences the location at which he handles his penis. Has anyone even studied that? In any case, it is sexual contact that puts a man at most risk for an STD, not autoinnoculation via his own hands.

      An uncircumcised man’s ability to clean his penis is beside the point. Poor penile hygiene is a risk factor for penile cancer, just as smoking is a risk factor for penile cancer. That doesn’t mean uncircumcised men all have poor penile hygiene, just as it doesn’t mean all uncircumcised men smoke.

      You ask us to update the information in our “glossary,” but what glossary are you referring to? It doesn’t seem like you’re commenting on information presented on this page. The only claim about circumcision I made was that it is a protective factor against penile cancer, but nothing you’re saying is in response to that statement. Instead, you’re talking about an unverified and outdated letter from the American Cancer Society that says circumcision should not be performed as cancer prevention (which is different from identifying it as a risk factor), how to clean foreskin, and where to touch one’s penis. None of these things is relevant to whether or not circumcision during infancy is associated with a reduced risk of penile cancer. Please check our commenting policy, which asks that commenters engage the content of the post rather than pasting unrelated boilerplate into the comments field.

      • Anna, if intact men are at higher risk for cancer, then you must also freely admit that women who also have not been cut are at least at equal risk for cervical and vaginal cancer. However, the majority of sane doctors out there will not recognize it as such, and I agree with the poster above that you are peddling misinformation, even if not intentionally.

        • You’re being intellectually dishonest if you think you can fairly compare male circumcision to female circumcision. We’re talking about anatomy that is different at the cellular level, with completely different susceptibility to pathogens. We’re also talking about procedures that may be done at different stages of life. Furthermore, there is strong epidemiological evidence and biological plausibility to support the idea that male circumcision reduces susceptibility to HIV, HPV, and other pathogens. There is no epidemiological evidence or biological plausibility to support the idea that female circumcision reduces HIV or HPV risk (in fact, the opposite is true).

          Please don’t abuse science or promote mischaracterizations of biology to promote your philosophical agenda, because the science actually doesn’t support you. I recommend sticking to your philosophical objections when arguing against circumcision.

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