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What You Need to Know About Penile Papules

Medically Reviewed by Dan Brennan, MD on April 27, 2021

Penile papules are a common skin condition. They are harmless unless you have additional symptoms that may point to a sexually transmitted infection. How do you tell the difference between harmless papules and something more serious?

Understanding Penile Papules

You may be concerned to see small growths on your penis, often called penile papules. These small dots are normal, and as long as they aren’t accompanied by other symptoms, they are probably harmless.

However, if you are unsure what caused the papules, it is always a good idea to talk to your doctor. They are often confused for genital warts or molluscum contagiosum, two skin conditions with a similar appearance.

Penile papules are small, non-cancerous growths that appear on the head or shaft of the penis. They are not itchy or painful and typically appear for the first time during adolescence or young adulthood. These papules are:

  • White, pink, or yellow and may have a pearly sheen
  • Rounded bumps that are raised off of the skin
  • One to two millimeters wide and one to four millimeters long‌
  • Tend to appear in a couple of rows around the head of the penis

Causes of Penile Papules

Medical professionals haven’t pinpointed a reason for penile papules. Because they aren’t harmful, penile papules are a normal skin variation. They are not contagious and can’t be passed from person to person through sexual contact. As many as one in four men experience penile papules during their life.

Who Will Develop Penile Papules?

Men who remain uncircumcised are more likely to develop the condition. If you think you have penile papules, your doctor can help to diagnose and treat the condition. They may refer you to a dermatologist for assessment and treatment. Keep in mind that you should not pick at your penile papules. If they break open, it leaves you at risk for infection.‌

Treatment of Penile Papules

Do not attempt any home or over-the-counter remedy without first consulting your doctor. Wart medicine will not remove penile papules and may cause harm instead. While removal is not necessary, you may be bothered by their appearance.

Your dermatologist may be able to use cryotherapy to freeze the growths off. Without treatment, your penile papules can grow smaller with time and may even go away on their own.

Risks of Penile Papules

Penile papules do not pose any health concerns. If you are sexually active and suspect an STI, talk to your doctor about any other symptoms you experience. If STIs are ruled out, you do not need to worry about the small bumps appearing on your penis.

If they do break open, keep the area clean and covered to prevent the introduction of bacteria. Otherwise, you can monitor the condition and let your doctor know if the condition worsens or if you begin to experience other symptoms.

Knowing The Difference Between Penile Papules and STIs

Penile papules are different from genital warts. Penile papules may look similar to genital warts, so if you have any concerns talk to your doctor about getting tested. The human papillomavirus (HPV) causes genital warts and is considered a sexually transmitted infection (STI).

Genital warts are different from penile papules because they look more like cauliflower with a rough texture and inconsistent shape. Penile papules are limited to the penis, but genital warts are contagious and may spread to the anus, groin, thighs, lips, tongue, mouth, and throat.

Penile papules are different from molluscum contagiosum. Penile papules are smaller than molluscum contagiosum, which may appear as larger, raised bumps that are pitted in the middle. A poxvirus causes molluscum contagiosum, and it can appear anywhere on the body. It is not exclusive to the genital areas.

Other STIs. Keep in mind that if you are not familiar with STIs, you may discount their appearance at first. Penile papules are harmless, but some STIs like Syphilis and genital herpes are very serious conditions.

If you have any doubts about changes in the appearance of your penis skin, talk to your doctor. Also keep in mind that open sores leave you at a greater risk for contracting an STI. If your penile papules break open, abstain from sexual activities until your skin heals completely.

WebMD Medical Reference

Sources

SOURCES:

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention: “Molluscum Contagiosum.”

Mayo Clinic: “Genital Warts,” “Sexually transmitted disease (STD) symptoms.”

Sutter Health: “Penis Color, Texture, Size, Ejaculation and Circumcision.”

Young Men's Health, Boston Children's Hospital: “Pearly Penile Papules.”

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