Spots on my penis – what are the key causes?

Last updated:
Reviewed by:
Dr Bryony Henderson, Lead GP at Livi
Spots on penis
Noticed a new spot, lump or bump on your penis? Most spots are harmless, but it’s always best to get checked out by a doctor. Here are 10 of the most common causes and advice on when to seek help

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Finding a spot, lump or bump on your penis can be worrying, but it’s important to find out what’s causing it. Some spots are harmless – but they can also be caused by sexually transmitted infections (STIs) or something more serious.

That’s why it’s important to speak to a GP or visit a sexual health clinic if you notice a spot or lump on your penis.

Here, we share 10 of the most common causes and how and when to seek help.

1. Pearly penile papules

Pearly penile papules are small, flesh-coloured lumps that grow in 1 to 2 rows around the head of the penis. The cause of these lumps isn’t completely understood, but they’re not due to STIs or bad hygiene. They’re quite common and can affect up to half of people with penises.

What to do: There’s no need to worry about this type of lump, as it causes no symptoms and doesn’t need treatment.

2. Fordyce spots

Fordyce spots are oil glands that don’t contain hair follicles. They appear as small white or yellowish spots that can develop on various parts of the body, including the lips and inside the cheeks. They can also develop on the head and shaft of the penis.

What to do: These spots are harmless and don’t require treatment.

3. Skin tags

Skin tags are soft, skin-coloured growths that develop as we age. They’re usually found on the neck, armpits or groin, but they can develop on the penis too.

What to do: They’re not a cause for concern, but they can be removed if they bother you or for aesthetic purposes.

4. Dermatitis

Dermatitis in the genital area, or ‘penile eczema’, is a condition that causes the skin there to be itchy, dry and discoloured. The penis might also appear scaly, ashen or purple-grey in darker skin tones and red in lighter skin tones.

What to do: The main treatment is to make sure the skin in the area is well moisturised and not irritated. Steroid creams may help in some cases but it’s better to see a doctor to get a diagnosis rather than self medicate.

5. Lichen planus

Lichen planus is a purple-red, blotchy rash that can appear on different parts of the body, including the penis. The rash can be uncomfortable and very itchy.

What to do: A doctor will often prescribe a soothing cream or ointment. In some cases, you might need a short course of steroid cream to help relieve the symptoms.

6. Molluscum contagiosum

Molluscum contagiosum is a skin infection caused by a virus, which causes firm, raised spots on the skin that develop in clusters. The spots have a distinctive small dimple in the middle. The spots might not be painful, but they can be itchy. They can occur anywhere on the body, including the penis and groin.

The condition is contagious and can be spread easily to other people through direct skin contact, touching contaminated objects and sexual contact. The condition can be categorised as an STI if the spot is on the genitals and the individual is still sexually active.

What to do: If you think you may have molluscum contagiosum, speak to a doctor. The condition can get better on its own, but creams or gel treatments and minor procedures like cryotherapy are available to help.

7. Genital warts

This is an STI caused by the human papilloma virus (HPV) that causes painless, small, fleshy growths on the shaft, head or under the foreskin of the penis. It’s a common STI that is passed on via sexual activity.

What to do: If you think you have genital warts, you should stop all sexual activity and visit a sexual health clinic. Treatments include a topical cream, freezing the warts or surgery to remove them. There’s no cure for genital warts, but your body can fight the virus over time.

8. Genital herpes

Genital herpes is an STI caused by the herpes simplex virus (HSV), which causes small blisters, open sores or grey-white sores around the penis. The sores can be painful or itchy and you might experience a burning sensation around your penis.

What to do: There’s no cure for the virus, but the condition can be managed with antiviral medication. Condoms can help prevent any spreading of the virus.

9. Syphilis

This is an STI caused by bacteria that leads to white or discoloured, painless ulcers forming on or around the penis.

What to do: Syphilis can be treated easily with a course of antibiotics. But if syphilis is left untreated, it can lead to significant complications. It’s important that you see a doctor, either your GP or at a sexual health clinic.

10. Penile cancer

This is a very rare type of cancer that affects the skin of the penis and the foreskin. It may cause a growth or sore that doesn’t heal, bleeding from the penis or foreskin, a rash, and changes in the colour of the skin or foreskin of the penis.

Other symptoms include unintentional weight loss, feeling tired, a lump in your groin and stomach pain.

What to do: If you’re experiencing any of these symptoms, speak to a GP as soon as possible.

When should I speak to a doctor?

Speak to a doctor if you have any of these symptoms or notice a new lump or spot on your penis of any kind.

If you have a spot or lump on your penis, you should stop any sexual activity until you’ve spoken to a doctor to ensure you don’t pass on any STIs to your partner.

This article has been medically reviewed by Dr Bryony Henderson, lead GP at Livi.

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