6 Penis Health Warning Signs To Watch For

Lumps, bumps, swelling, curves—all can be a cause for concern.

Lumps, pain, and swelling of the penis can all be signs of a sexual health problem—or a tip-off to a bigger body issue. Ryan Berglund, MD, a urologist at the Cleveland Clinic, went through the top penis problems he saw in his practice. If you notice any of these on yourself or your partner, get checked by a healthcare provider.

The Erect Penis Has a Curve

The top issue Dr. Berglund saw was a curvature of the penis that came on suddenly. "It's from a relatively common condition called Peyronie's disease, which is caused by a buildup of scar tissue," Dr. Berglund explained. The curve can go up, down, or to the side. Healthcare providers aren't sure why some develop a Peyronie's curve, but it could stem from a penile injury while playing sports in some cases.

A slight curving can be normal. "If you think of zero degrees being perfectly straight and 90 degrees the most extreme curve, we will usually address a curve greater than 30 degrees or if it's interfering with intercourse," Dr. Berglund said. Treatment varies, so it's best to urge your partner to see a urologist to determine the options.

Another reason to go to a healthcare provider? Those with Peyronie's are at an increased risk of several cancers, according to a 2017 study in Fertility & Sterility.

There's a Lump Under the Skin

Another major concern patients bring to Dr. Berglund is a penile lump. "Usually, guys feel a hardness, and sometimes it's [caused by] a blood vessel," Dr. Berglund said. A blocked lymph gland can also be to blame. "Or men will say there's a hardness in the center, which is often that scar tissue from Peyronie's."

A urologist visit is in order, but, scary as it sounds, "it's typically not cancer," Dr. Berglund said. Odds are the lump is benign, and your partner may not need to address it at all. But if it's caused by scar tissue and there's a significant amount affecting intercourse, a healthcare provider may be able to dissolve or remove it.

The Penis Has One or More Tiny Bumps

Lots of things cause penis bumps. "It could be anything from a benign lesion—you can get pimples anywhere, from the face and back to the penis—to something called 'pearly penile papules,' which are just tiny bumps," Dr. Berglund said. Cysts are also common and, like penile papules, generally not a big deal.

However, some bumps are a bigger deal. Genital warts, an STI caused by certain types of HPV—a family of sexually transmitted viruses—is one possibility. On the penis, these warts "often look like little heads of cauliflower," Dr. Berglund said. In the case of warts, your partner will want to see a healthcare provider. Warts can be removed with medications or burned or lasered off.

And if your partner has an STI, you should talk to your healthcare provider about your HPV and genital wart risk, and ask if testing is recommended.

There's a Penis Sore

"Sores on the skin of the penis can be painful or not," Dr. Berglund said. Depending on what your partner is experiencing, you're looking at different issues. "With syphilis, you'll find a sore, but it is usually not painful and can be treated with a simple shot of penicillin. Herpes also causes a sore, and we have drugs to reduce flares and outbreaks."

This is another problem that can affect your health, not just your partner's, since both herpes and syphilis are STIs. Let your healthcare provider know that you may have been exposed, and ask if you should be tested.

Penile cancer can also present as an ulceration or a mass. It typically occurs on the glans (tip) or foreskin of the penis but can also be on the shaft, according to the American Cancer Society (ACS). Penile cancer is quite rare, diagnosed every year in fewer than one man in 100,000 (accounting for fewer than 1% of all cancers in men), according to the ACS. But it's a condition with significant mortality if left unevaluated.

Your Partner Is Having Pee Issues

Blood in the urine is one pee problem that warrants concern, even if it's just a slight amount, Dr. Berglund said, adding that cancer is a possible cause. "We'll want to do a scan and look at organs like the kidneys." Don't panic: Seeing pink or red when you expect to see yellow can signal kidney stones, a bladder infection, or an injury.

Other urination issues—like bladder retention, when your partner is not fully eliminating—are usually the result of a benign enlarged prostate. Dr. Berglund advised being screened for prostate cancer just to be on the safe side, though that recommendation depends on your partner's age, background, and family history. "If possible, it is important to catch prostate cancer before it becomes symptomatic." This can be accomplished with an exam and a blood test.

There's a Testicle Lump

It's not strictly a penis issue, but since the testicles hang right below, they have the potential to affect your partner's entire package. It's not uncommon for someone to detect a lump, and luckily, it's usually something benign. If your partner feels a lump and pain, it could be an infection, and your partner will need antibiotics to clear it up.

A more worrisome lump is caused by testicular torsion—when the cord that supplies blood to the testes has become twisted and cut off. Often caused by an injury, symptoms come on quickly and may be accompanied by fever, nausea, scrotal swelling, and abdominal pain. Testicular torsion is a medical emergency. If this sounds like something your partner may have, go to the ER at once.

Another potentially serious lump could be caused by testicular cancer. "Testicular cancer is the most common cancer in men between the ages of 15 and 45, and it's highly treatable with early detection," Dr. Berglund said. If you suspect this, make sure your partner doesn't put off a healthcare provider visit.

Was this page helpful?
Related Articles