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The Story of Pearly Penile Papules

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Updated April 04, 2014

pearly penile papules

Pearly penile papules

Photo Courtesy of the CDC

If a teen sees small bumps on his penis head, he will undoubtedly be worried about them. If he is sexually active, he might be afraid he has a sexually transmitted disease (STD). Thankfully, those bumps might not mean he has an infection. Your teen son might have a condition called hirsuties papillaris genitalis, otherwise known as pearly penile papules.

What are pearly penile papules?

Pearly penile papules are small (1 to 2mm) round bumps that are attached to the rim of the head of the penis. These bumps can be the color of the skin, translucent, white, yellow, or pink. The bumps can sometimes go all the way around the rim of the head of the penis, and the bumps can form multiple rows around the head of the penis.

These bumps (or papules) are completely normal and not a sign of infection or uncleanliness. They are not cancerous and are not precancerous lesions. It is unclear as to how many men have these papules, but they can occur in anywhere from 8% to 48% of men. Studies suggest that they occur more often in uncircumcised men than in circumcised men. These papules tend to appear when a man is in his 20s or 30s, although they can occur in teen males.

What can be done about them?

Because these bumps on the penis are not caused by an infection and are not painful or uncomfortable, they do not need to be treated or removed. They will frequently become less noticeable as the man approaches his 40s. That being said, men who have them are often embarrassed by the bumps because they are afraid someone will think they are an STD. Because teens are very concerned about their bodies, they will be particularly uncomfortable with not having the papules removed.

Most studies suggest that a carbon dioxide (CO2) laser is the best and most effective treatment for removal of these pearly penile papules. There are risks of treating these bumps, and the laser can sometimes cause scarring or infection.

Next steps

If your teen has bumps on his penis, contact your pediatrician or family healthcare provider. Only someone who has actually seen the lesions can accurately diagnose what they are.

Additionally, if your teen is afraid that he has an STD, it might mean that he is having sex. It will be important for you (or someone your teen trusts) to discuss with him how to avoid getting a sexually transmitted disease.. The only way for your son to completely avoid getting an STD is by not having sex. If it doesn't seem like that is a viable option, it will be important to discuss condom use, safer sex and contraception if he has a female partner.

Bumps on the penis can mean many things, but only your healthcare provider can tell for sure. He can provide the best guidance as to what the issue is and how to deal with it.

Sources:

Pearly penile papules. DermNet NZ. February 20, 2009. http://dermnetnz.org/site-age-specific/penile-papules.html

Photo Quiz: Asymptomatic Penile Rash. American Academy of Family Physicians. February 20, 2009. http://www.aafp.org/afp/20060201/photo.html

Sonnex C, Dockerty WG. Pearly penile papules: a common cause of concern. Int J STD AIDS. Nov 1999;10(11):726-7.

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