What you need to know about Penile melanosis

Penile melanosis is a rare condition that causes the head and shaft of the penis to have discoloured areas of the skin.

These stains are dark brown and may be somewhat or significantly darker on the penis than the surrounding skin.

No other symptoms result from penile melanosis. The disease is neither contagious nor infectious, and there is no way to pass it on to others. The exact cause is yet unknown, though.

Melanosis of the penile is generally harmless, and requires no treatment. However, some people may opt for cosmetic procedures to remove the spots.

Learn more about penile melanosis in this article including the causes, associated conditions and options for treatment.

What is penile melanosis?

Doctors do not know what causes melanosis in the penile.
Doctors do not know what causes melanosis in the penile.

Penile melanosis leads to gray or dark brown peel patches on the penis. Usually these spots are broad and flat, each appearing alone.

Melanin is one of the skin’s principal pigments, and those with more melanin have a darker skin tone. Melanosis refers to melanin buildup.

Other pigment compounds in the skin may also include penile melanosis, such as:

  • hemosiderin
  • lipofuscin
  • ferrous sulfate

As these pigment compounds develop they can cause a noticeable change in the color of the skin. This hyperpigmentation occurs on the penis in patches, rather than affecting the whole penis.

Causes

Physicians aren’t sure why some people grow melanosis in the penis. It is actually a accumulation of pigment cells inside the skin, which can also occur elsewhere.

Potential risk factors which may increase the chances of a individual developing penile melanosis, however, include:

  • Age: Although penile melanosis can affect people of any age, it occurs mostly between ages 15 and 72.
  • Genetics: Penile melanosis may also have a genetic component.
  • Injuries: Previous penile injury can play a role, as the formation of scar tissue can result in hyperpigmentation.
  • Some skin treatments: Treatment with certain medicines such as anthralin or PUVA therapy may increase the risk of melanosis of the penile.

Penile melanosis and lichen sclerosus

Penile melanosis may also correlate with another rare skin condition called lichen sclerosus.

Lichen sclerosus causes small, pale skin patches this usually occur in the genitals or hands. A case study of an older man in 2017 found a correlation on his penis between penile melanosis and lichen sclerosis.

That does not, however, mean that one of these causes is causing the other. This simply suggests there could be a link between them.

Penile melanosis and cancer

Many people may worry about discolorations like these leading to melanoma, a type of skin cancer. It is very rare to get penile melanoma.

Penile melanoma can cause darker skin spots similar to those of penile melanosis, but typically only on the penis head. These can grow, they can change color and bleed.

When a doctor diagnoses penile melanosis they will be certain to rule out the possibility of cancerous lesions. Consequently, once they have confirmed their diagnosis, this means the lesions do not put the person at risk of cancer.

A individual may see a dermatologist to monitor the condition at set intervals and ensure there are no signs of melanoma. Nonetheless, there is no direct evidence that penile melanosis can cause cancer.

Treatment and removal

Because penile melanosis is a simple accumulation of pigment cells in the skin, no treatment is needed.

However, if a person feels the pigment on the skin makes the penis unsightly or makes their sexual partners uncomfortable, then there are options for cosmetic care. In many cases the patches of pigmented skin may be eliminated.

Laser therapy may help in the removal or reduction of pigmented skin lesions. Laser therapy can also remove sunspots, scars, or even pigments from the tattoos as a cosmetic procedure.

This process can take time to remove the pigment and a individual will often require multiple sessions. In some cases, the pigmentation will not go away altogether but will become significantly weaker.

Certain people may want surgery to get the spots removed. Penile melanosis surgery involves removing the skin with the pigment and the area being grafted with new skin.

It takes time to heal following surgery. The surgery may also leave small scars which may be unsightly if the person is worried about their penis appearance.

Removal procedures are only deep in the skin, and should not affect the sexual health of a person or their urinating capacity.

Summary

Penile melanosis is a harmless condition. This happens because of a pigment accumulation in the skin, which creates thin, dark lesions on the penis.

Given that this is the only symptom, medication is not needed for the disorder. Some people still choose to remove the lesions or make them lighter to reduce their appearance.

Anyone who undergoes treatment to remove the lesions should not notice any changes in their penile function or sexual health.

Penis discoloration can occur due to different causes, so anyone who sees any lesions or other changes should speak to a doctor or dermatologist for a diagnosis.

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