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The penis

Men and women discussing penile cancer

This page tells you about the penis. You can find information on

 

A quick guide to what's on this page

The penis

The penis is the male sex organ. It contains a tube called the urethra, which carries semen (sperm) and urine to the outside of the body. So the penis is part of the reproductive system and the urinary system.

The base of the penis is actually inside the body and is called the root. The main part of the penis is called the body, or shaft. The tip of the penis is called the head or glans, and is covered by a moveable layer of skin called the foreskin. Some men have an operation called a circumcision to remove their foreskin.

When sexually aroused, blood flow to the penis increases. Columns of special muscle tissue in the main body of the penis (erectile tissue) fill up with blood, and this makes the penis erect.

Cancer of the penis

Cancer can develop anywhere on the penis but most commonly develops

  • Under the foreskin in men who haven’t been circumcised
  • On the head of the penis (glans)

Lymph nodes

Lymph nodes are small, bean shaped glands that make up part of the lymphatic system. They are also called lymph glands. If cancer cells break away from a tumour, the first places they usually reach are nearby lymph nodes. You might have some of the lymph nodes around your penis removed during surgery.

 

CR PDF Icon You can view and print the quick guides for all the pages in the about penile cancer section.

 

 

Parts of the penis

The penis is the male sex organ. It contains a tube called the urethra, which carries urine from the bladder to the outside of the body. The urethra also carries semen (sperm) from the testicles to the outside of the body. So the penis is part of the urinary system and the reproductive system.

The base of the penis is actually inside the body and is called the root. The penis extends from the root, outside the body and hangs in front of the pouch of skin called the scrotum. The scrotum holds both testicles.

Diagram showing the penis and nearby organs

The following diagram shows the parts of the penis.

Diagram showing the anatomy of the penis

The main part of the penis is called the body, or shaft. The tip of the penis is called the head or glans and is covered by a moveable layer of skin called the foreskin. Some men have an operation called a circumcision to remove their foreskin. Below the head of the penis is a ridge called the frenulum. For most men, the frenulum is the most sensitive part of their penis.

The penis is made up of different types of tissue including skin, muscle and nerves. It has a very rich blood supply so that it can become upright (an erection) during sexual activity. When sexually aroused, blood flow to the penis increases. Columns of special muscle tissue in the main body of the penis (erectile tissue) fill up with blood, and this makes the penis erect.

 

Cancer of the penis

Penile cancer is very rare. There are around 500 cases in the UK every year. If found early, the chances of curing it are very high. Cancer can develop anywhere on the penis but most commonly develops

  • Under the foreskin in men who haven’t been circumcised
  • On the head of the penis (glans)
 

The lymph nodes

Lymph nodes are small, bean shaped glands that make up part of the lymphatic system. They are also called lymph glands.

Lymph nodes can be found all over the body, including close to the penis in the groin area. If cancer cells break away from a tumour, the first places they usually reach are nearby lymph nodes. You might have some of the lymph nodes in your groin removed during surgery

Diagram showing the position of the lymph nodes in the abdomen, pelvis and groin in a man

A specialist doctor examines the lymph nodes closely under a microscope to see if they contain cancer cells. This tells the doctor the stage of penile cancer and helps with choosing the most suitable treatment.

There is more about the lymph glands and the lymphatic system in the section about your body.

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Updated: 14 January 2014