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Most penile cysts do not require treatment. However, anyone who thinks that they may have a cyst should see a doctor for a diagnosis. Sexually transmitted infections (STIs) and other health issues can cause bumps that resemble cysts to form on the penis.
The causes of penile cysts vary, and each has distinct symptoms. In this article, we discuss the causes, symptoms, treatment options, and risk factors of penile cysts.
Pearly penile papules.
Image credit: Alberto21, 2016.
Image credit: CDC/ Susan Lindsley, 1976.
Image credit: Kentkalell, 2013.
Image credit: Privatephoto, 2006.
Image credit: Dermnet, New Zealand
Pearly penile papules
Pearly penile papules are noncancerous, dome-shaped lesions that develop along the corona, which is the border of the tip of the penis.
On average, 14–48% of males develop these penile papules, according to one 2016 review of studies published in the American Journal of Men’s Health.
Pearly penile papules have no known cause. They do not develop as the result of an infection or any other underlying medical issue.
Usually, these papules clear up on their own and do not require treatment.
Epidermoid cysts are sac-like structures that contain keratin, which is a fibrous protein. Keratin exists in the hair, skin, and nails.
In one 2019 article, researchers report that, while epidermoid cysts can occur anywhere on the body, they usually develop on the:
These cysts are not typically a cause for concern, but they can become inflamed, which may result in discomfort or pain in the area.
Tyson glands are small, sebaceous glands on either side of the frenulum. The frenulum is the elastic band of connective tissue that connects the foreskin to the penis.
If a person has enlarged Tyson glands, they may develop tiny yellow or white bumps on the underside of the penis.
Median raphe cyst
Median raphe cysts are rare, and they develop on the bottom of the head of the penis.
These cysts form before birth. However, the authors of one 2019 case report note that people tend only to realize that they have median raphe cysts in adolescence or adulthood, or when the cyst grows large enough to cause inflammation in the surrounding skin tissue.
Fordyce spots are small, yellow or white bumps that can form on the lips, inner cheeks, penis, or scrotum. These bumps develop in sebaceous glands that do not contain hair follicles.
According to a 2015 case report, Fordyce spots affect 70–80% of adults and occur twice as often in males as in females.
Fordyce spots may appear during puberty, when fluctuations in hormone levels lead to enlarged sebaceous glands.
These spots do not usually require treatment because they do not result from an infection or any other health issue. In rare cases, Fordyce spots on the genitals can cause discomfort or pain during sex.
Penile cancer is very rare among males in the U.S.
A lump on the penis can result from penile cancer, which is rare. According to the American Cancer Society, cancers affecting the penis account for fewer than 1% of all cancer diagnoses in males in the United States.
Symptoms of penile cancer include:
- a lump on the penis that may grow larger over time
- an ulcer or open sore on the penis
- a rash under the foreskin
- thickening of the skin on the penis
- brown, crusty bumps on the penis
- bleeding or unusual discharge
The American Cancer Society recommend that anyone with a growth or any other abnormality on the penis consult a doctor. They suggest seeing a doctor if any change to the penis lasts longer than 4 weeks.
Treatment and removal
Usually, cysts clear up on their own without treatment.
The following tips can help manage any pain or discomfort while a cyst heals:
- Keep the skin clean: Gently cleanse the skin around the cyst with warm water and fragrance free, antibacterial soap. Pat the skin dry immediately after washing it.
- Apply a warm compress: Soak a clean towel or cloth in warm water and wring it out. Place the cloth over the cyst for a few minutes. As the cloth cools, soak it again and repeat. Applying this heat will help drain the cyst.
- Avoid popping or squeezing the cyst: Squeezing a cyst can cause irritation, which may make it grow larger. Popping a cyst can lead to an infection.
Some people ask doctors to remove cysts for aesthetic reasons. The doctor may drain the cyst or surgically remove it.
A doctor may recommend draining a cyst if it bursts under the skin or an infection develops. After draining the cyst, a doctor will likely prescribe a course of antibiotics to treat an existing infection and prevent future infections.
A doctor can remove a cyst by making a small cut on the skin above the cyst. They will use forceps and a scalpel to remove the cyst and the surrounding tissue. After removing the cyst, they will close the wound with dissolvable stitches.
If a person may have an STI, they should see a doctor for an evaluation. Certain STIs can cause cysts to form on the penis.
A person may be more at risk of a penile cyst if they have a family history of the condition.
The following factors can increase a person’s risk of developing a penile cyst:
- hormonal changes
- injury to the penis
- poor personal hygiene
- vigorous sexual activity
- genetics or family history
Cysts can develop anywhere on the body, including the shaft and head of the penis. Usually, a cyst on the penis does not require medical treatment.
People can treat a cyst at home by:
- keeping the skin around the cyst clean and dry
- applying a warm compress to help drain fluid from the cyst
- refraining from popping or squeezing the cyst
A person can have a cyst drained or surgically removed if it causes discomfort.
What to know about a cut on the penis
The thin skin around the penis is prone to cuts and tears. Causes of a cut on the penis can include friction, scratching, and accidents. Symptoms of sexually transmitted infections can sometimes also resemble cuts. Learn more about the causes and treatment of a cut on the penis here.
What to know about friction burns on the penis
Friction burns on the penis can cause red, swollen skin in the affected area. They can occur due to vigorous sexual activity or tight fitting clothing and may cause symptoms similar to those of a sexually transmitted infection. Learn more about penile friction burns, including how to treat and prevent them.
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