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Penis Bumps

On This Page: Non-STD Causes | STD Causes | Diagnosis | Treatment

What are penis bumps?

It might be alarming to discover a bump on your penis. You’re probably wondering, “Is this a sexually transmitted disease (STD) or something less serious, like a pimple?” Most bumps aren’t cause for concern, but some can indicate health issues which may require treatment. If you are concerned about the bumps on your penis, you should consider getting tested or talking to a doctor so you can pinpoint what’s happening.

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What Causes Non-STD Related Penis Bumps?

There are many causes for bumps developing on the penis, with a large portion being non-sexual. Many skin conditions that affect skin elsewhere, like acne or skin tags, can also affect the skin of the penis. Bumps on the penis that aren’t caused by sexually transmitted infections are generally less worrisome than bumps caused by STDs, but they still shouldn’t be ignored.

The following are examples of non-infectious causes for bumps on a penis:1,2

  • Acne (pimples, blackheads, whiteheads)—red, pus-filled bumps caused by oil, dirt, and dead skin clogging skin pores.
  • Cysts—fluid-filled, sac-like growths that are often caused by an infection. They may be painful and are noncancerous.
  • Moles—dark spots on your skin caused by too much melanin, the pigment that determines your skin color. They’re typically harmless, but it’s always best to check with your physician. Changes in mole shape, color, or size can indicate skin cancer.3
  • Ingrown hairs—small, sometimes pus-filled bumps that appear when hair grows sideways into the skin after being shaved or tweezed.
  • Inflamed hair follicles— small, pus-filled, red bumps that form when bacteria or dirt blocks the follicle. Also known as folliculitis.
  • Allergic reactions— sore, itchy, and/or irritated rashes that can appear if you are sensitive to products like body wash, shaving cream, condoms, and even some clothing materials.
  • Skin tags—small, benign tumors that hang from the surface of the skin. They are harmless and can be removed.
  • Abrasion from rubbing—temporary bumps and rashes caused by friction, like if you are wearing tight clothes.
  • Pearly penile papules—small pinkish-white growths that develop on the head of the penis. Also known as hirsutoid papillomas, they are harmless and often mistaken as a sign of an STD.4
  • Psoriasis—a common skin condition that accelerates the life cycle of skin cells and causes scaly, bumpy skin. Psoriasis can affect all parts of the skin, including the penis.
  • Angiokeratomas—small, rough, dark red spots that often appear on the penis or scrotum. These benign spots are sometimes wart-like and are more common in older men.
  • Penile Cancer—while rare, bumps, sores, ulcers, or growths can indicate penile cancer. Penile cancer is often identified by a change to the skin of the penis, such as in color, thickness, texture, or the development of a lump or bump on the penis. Early diagnosis is ideal for successful treatment.5
  • Lichen Sclerosus—A rare skin condition which causes white patches or bumps on the genital and anal regions. The cause of it is unknown, but it is not transmitted sexually.
  • Fordyce spots—harmless whitish-yellow bumps that typically grow on the lips or inside of the cheeks but can also appear in the genital area.
  • Lichen planus— a non-contagious skin disease that can develop in many parts of the body, including the genitals, and often causes firm, shiny, reddish-purple bumps.
  • Peyronie’s disease—A disease that causes scar tissue to develop inside the penis, leading to curved, painful erections.

What STDs Cause Bumps on the Penis?

Finding a bump on your penis may not always mean that you have an STD, but sometimes it can. If you haven’t tested recently, it’s worth getting tested to know if you have contracted an infection such as herpes, HPV, or syphilis. It’s almost impossible to determine the cause of bumps on the penis without a blood or urine test, which is why getting tested for STDs is so important.

Herpes (HSV-1 and HSV-2)

The herpes simplex virus (HSV) is one of the most common sexual causes of bumps on or around the penis. There are two types of herpes virus: HSV-1 and HSV-2, and both can cause itchy red bumps to appear on or around the penis. HSV-2 more often affects the gential region than HSV-1, enough so to be informally known as genital herpes. Herpes rashes suddenly come and go, and it’s known as outbreaks when they show up.4

Herpes is a lifelong viral infection, meaning the virus is incurable and can lie dormant for years at a time. Outbreaks tend to be the most painful and unpleasant at first, then slowly begin to improve and become less frequent with time. Antiviral medication is available to treat herpes and make the herpes rash less painful. Outside of outbreaks, herpes does not cause any serious or life-threatening problems.

HPV

Human papillomavirus (HPV) is the leading cause of genital warts and is easily transmitted through skin-to-skin contact. HPV can cause genital warts on the penis and in the surrounding area (any skin covered by boxer shorts). Genital warts appear in clusters of painless, flesh-colored bumps. Unlike a herpes outbreak, genital warts can take a long time to go away on their own. There are over one hundred types of HPV, some that cause genital warts, and others that do not but can cause penis cancer.6 There is no way to test for HPV in men; however, men who recieve anal sex are at higher risk of anal cancer and should consider routine anal Pap tests.

Syphilis

One of the first and only signs of syphilis infection is a small, firm sore called a chancre, which develop about three weeks after contracting the STD. Chancres are small, firm bumps that are highly contagious, painless, and difficult to notice. They typically develop around the genitals, anus, or sometimes in the mouth. Because they’re painless and only a single chancre develops, it can be easy to completely miss the sore before it goes away. Relying on noticing a chancre sore is an extremely unreliable method for diagnosing syphilis, and blood tests should be the only method used.

Syphilis sores can develop 3 to 12 weeks after contracting syphilis and will disappear with or without treatment in 3-6 weeks.

Penis Bumps Caused by Molluscum Contagiosum

Molluscum contagiosum is a fairly common viral skin infection that causes small benign bumps to develop on the skin. The bumps caused by molluscum contagiosum have dimples or pits in them and are typically either white or flesh-colored. How many bumps that appear vary based off the body’s immune system strength.6 These bumps are extremely contagious and can be transmitted through all types of direct skin-to-skin contact, including sexual contact. STDcheck.com does not test for molluscum contagiosum because the standard method of diagnosis is visually by a doctor, who will perform a skin biopsy if they’re unsure based on a visual diagnosis.

Diagnosing Penis bumps

To determine the cause of bumps or sores, doctors may ask:

  • How long ago did you notice the bumps?
  • Do your bumps produce any discharge?
  • Has the outbreak changed over time and if so, how?
  • Are your bumps painful or itchy?
  • Are you sexually active?

A doctor may choose to perform a pelvic exam or swab a skin lesion for a culture test to determine the cause of sores or bumps. They may also suggest that you be tested for STDs. This combination of visual analysis and testing will determine what is the cause of the penis bumps.

What’s the Simplest Way to Know if the Bump is From an STD?

Getting tested for STDs can be done in minutes and you can have your results back in as soon as a day. Testing is the only way to know if you are positive for STDs, and will greatly aid in diagnosing the cause of a bump on the penis. If you have a penis bump(s) and believe it could be caused by an STD, then a positive result can confirm your suspicions. Even if the bump doesn’t clear up after treatment, it’s still best to identify and treat STDs as quickly as possible to prevent serious health problems.

Treatment for Penis Bumps

The proper treatment for penis bumps depends on what is causing it. Some bumps may go away on their own, but some cases, like with syphilis, having a bump go away without treatment does not always mean the problem is resolved. Also, bear in mind that it’s never a good idea to pop or pick at bumps because that can lead to irritation or infection.

Treating Genital Herpes

The herpes simplex virus is, unfortunately, incurable today. Many are understandably distressed to learn they have herpes, regardless if it is oral or genital, but it may help to know that an incredible number of people have it and live their lives largely unaffected by the virus. Genital herpes outbreaks reduce in severity, frequency, and duration over time.7 Antiviral medication can further help manage genital herpes outbreaks.

If you test positive for herpes, our doctors can help you by consulting and prescribing antiviral medication. In addition to it helping shorten and even prevent outbreaks, herpes treatment also makes it less likely for you to spread herpes to your sex partner(s).

Treating Syphilis

Syphilis can be easily cured with penicillin, which kills the bacteria. How much penicillin is needed depends on the stage syphilis has progressed to, as more penicillin is needed the further it progresses. If syphilis is identified early enough, it should not cause any permanent damage.8

Treating Genital Warts from HPV

There is no cure for HPV, although genital warts caused by it can be treated by using a prescription cream, laser treatment, or surgery. Some types of HPV are preventable through vaccines, which there are multiple options of. These HPV vaccines protect against high-risk strains of HPV which cause cancer, but some vaccines also protect against genital wart-causing strains.

Treating Molluscum Contagiosum

Treating molluscum contagiosum is sometimes considered unnecessary because it generally goes away on its own without issue or scarring, but the CDC does suggest treatment for those who have bumps or lesions in the genital area.9 This is because the bumps caused by molluscum contagiosum are infections and can easily be spread through sexual contact. Bumps caused by MG can be removed by your doctor through freezing, draining, or laser treatment. The disappearance of these bumps indicates that you do not have the virus anymore, however, it is still possible for you to get it again in the future.

Final Thoughts

It can be alarming to discover a bump on your penis, especially if it’s painful or looks bad, and you may quickly assume it’s an STD. The truth is there are many things that can cause bumps, and the only way to know for sure if a bump is caused by an STD by getting tested. Even if the bump isn’t caused by an STD, it’s good practice for those who are sexually active to get tested at least once per year anyways.10

  1. “Noninfectious Penile Lesions.” American Family Physician. https://www.aafp.org/afp/2010/0115/p167.html
  2. "Penile Appearance, Lumps and Bumps." Australian Family Physician 42, no. 5. https://www.racgp.org.au/afp/2013/may/penile-appearance/.
  3. “Pearly Penile Papules.” American Urological Association. https://www.auanet.org/education/auauniversity/education-products-and-resources/pathology-for-urologists/penis/inflammatory-and-tumor-like-lesions/pearly-penile-papules
  4. "Genital Herpes - CDC Fact Sheet." Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. https://www.cdc.gov/std/herpes/stdfact-herpes.htm
  5. "Penile Cancer." Beaumont Health. https://www.beaumont.org/conditions/penile-cancer.
  6. “Molluscum Contagiosum.” American Academy of Dermatology. https://www.aad.org/public/diseases/contagious-skin-diseases/molluscum-contagiosum
  7. “Genital herpes: Common but misunderstood.” Harvard Health Publishing. https://www.health.harvard.edu/mens-sexual-health/genital_herpes_common_but_misunderstood
  8. “Syphilis Treatment and Care.” Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. https://www.cdc.gov/std/syphilis/treatment.htm
  9. ”Treatment Options - Molluscum Contagiosum.” Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. https://www.cdc.gov/poxvirus/molluscum-contagiosum/treatment.html
  10. “Which STD Tests Should I Get?” Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. https://www.cdc.gov/std/prevention/screeningreccs.htm

Medically Reviewed by on February 14, 2020


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