Penile biopsy

Your doctor might want you to have a biopsy Open a glossary item. This is the best way to find out whether or not you have penile cancer.

What is a biopsy?

A biopsy means removing a sample of tissue from the affected area of the penis.

Types of biopsy

You might have one of the following types of biopsy:

  • an incisional biopsy, where the doctor uses a surgical knife (scalpel) to remove a small piece of the abnormal area
  • a punch biopsy, where the doctor uses a small cutting device to remove a small piece of the abnormal area
  • an excisional biopsy, where your doctor removes the whole of the abnormal area

What happens during your biopsy?

You usually have your biopsy as a day patient. You don’t need any special preparation beforehand. Let the team know if you are taking any medications.

Your specialist will talk you through what happens and ask you to sign a consent form. This is a good time to ask any questions or talk through any worries you might have.

You have a local anaesthetic injection into part of the penis, which numbs the area. Your specialist will make sure the area is numb before they start the biopsy.  

Because of their symptoms, some people might find it too uncomfortable to have a biopsy with a local anaesthetic. In this situation you have a general anaesthetic Open a glossary item. You might still be able to go home the same day, although some people might stay overnight.

After the biopsy, you have stitches in the area where the skin has been cut. The stitches usually dissolve on their own.

What happens after a biopsy?

Your doctor will send the sample to a laboratory, where a specialist doctor called a pathologist looks at it under a microscope to see if the sample contains cancer cells.

Possible side effects

The anaesthetic injection may sting for a short time. You should not feel any pain during the biopsy. Do tell your doctor if it feels uncomfortable, they can give you more local anaesthetic.

Afterwards, you may have slight bleeding. This is nothing to worry about. But do tell your doctor if the bleeding is getting heavy.

You may also have some soreness, swelling and bruising for a few days. Mild painkillers can help.

There is a small risk of an infection. You should contact the team looking after you if you notice the area becoming more:

  • red
  • swollen
  • painful

Your team will explain to you how to look after your wound. It might be covered with a dressing. You might be advised to keep the wound dry for a couple of days.

You might be left with a small scar.

Looking after yourself at home

Your team will also give you advice on looking after yourself at home after the biopsy. This might include advice on:

  • going back to work - depending on your job this might be two or three days later
  • having sex

Ask if you have any questions.

Getting your results

You will have to wait to get the results. Ask your doctor or nurse how long this will take and how you will get the results. Contact the doctor who arranged the test if you haven’t heard anything after a couple of weeks.

Waiting for results can be an anxious time. It may help to talk to a close friend or relative about how you feel. You might have contact details for a specialist nurse. You can contact them for information if you need to.

You can also contact the Cancer Research UK nurses for support on freephone 0808 800 4040. The lines are open from 9am to 5pm, Monday to Friday.
Last reviewed: 
16 Dec 2020
Next review due: 
16 Dec 2023
  • Penile Cancer Guidelines
    OW Hakenberg and others
    European Association of Urology, 2018

  • Excision or Incision Biopsy of A Skin Lesion

    British Association of Urological Surgeons, 2017

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