Experts aren’t certain what directly causes penile cancer. However, certain factors may increase a man’s risk for developing it:
• HPV infection. HPV stands for human papillomavirus, which is an umbrella term for 100 different types of viruses. Most of the time, people clear an HPV infection on their own, but that is not always the case. HPV strains been linked to several types of cancer, including penile, cervical, and anal cancer. Some types can also cause genital warts. HPV is a very common sexually-transmitted infection that can be spread through intercourse and oral sex. It can also be spread through contact with infected skin. Therefore, using a condom does not provide full protection from HPV. While scientists have found a connection between HPV infection and penile cancer, it is not known whether sex with an infected person will necessarily lead to penile cancer. Much depends on the type of HPV that is transmitted and whether the infection is cleared or not. According to the American Cancer Society, about half of men with penile cancer are infected with HPV.
• Poor hygiene. Men who are not circumcised may be at higher risk for penile cancer if they do not clean their penis properly. Secretions can build up beneath the foreskin, causing inflammation in the area. (Please click here for more information on washing an uncircumcised penis.)
• Phimosis. Normally, uncircumcised men can pull their foreskin back and forth as needed. However, when a man has phimosis, he cannot pull his foreskin back. The chance of infection and inflammation increases because the area cannot be cleaned.
• Tobacco use. Men who smoke are more likely to develop penile cancer than those who don’t, especially if they are infected with HPV.
• Older age. Penile cancer is more common in men over age 55.
• AIDS. Men with AIDS are at higher risk, possibly because their immune systems are compromised.
• High number of sexual partners. Having many sexual partners can put a man at risk for HPV infection.