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Overview of a chancre on the penis

A chancre on the penis is a sore that’s hard, painless and raised. This flesh-colored bump often resembles a bug bite and most times, there is only one chancre present. Chancres can appear elsewhere on the body, including the scrotum, anus or mouth.

This sore will heal within a few weeks and go away on its own, but when caused by syphilis, the infection is still active until antibiotics are administered.

Chancre on the penis: A sign of syphilis

Syphilis is the main cause of a chancre on the penis. This STD is transmitted through skin-to-skin contact via vaginal, anal and oral sex. Syphilis can be transmitted even when a condom is not used, as chancres can occur on areas that aren't covered by the latex (e.g., scrotum, thighs, etc.).

Syphilis occurs in three distinct stages:

  • First stage: A sore typically marks the first stage and will heal after a few weeks without treatment, although the STD will still be present in the body.
  • Second stage: The second stage will set in a few weeks or months later, and the STD may cause a copper-colored rash on the palm of the hand and soles of the feet, as well as swollen glands, fever, lesions on other parts of the body and other symptoms. These symptoms will eventually heal and the STD will become asymptomatic until the third stage.
  • Third stage: Anywhere from 10 to 30 years after infection, syphilis can cause irreversible organ and brain damage during the third stage.

Other causes of a chancre on the penis

Other conditions can cause similar symptoms, such as herpes or genital warts. Typically, a herpes outbreak consists multiple red, painful blisters around the genitals, thighs or anus. Genital warts may look like flesh-colored or pinkish cauliflower-like clusters.

Diagnosing a chancre on the penis

STD testing is an important step when diagnosing a chancre on the penis. A syphilis test should be administered, as well as a genital herpes test. A doctor must perform a visual exam to diagnose genital warts in men.

If STD testing returns negative, a doctor can diagnose other causes.

Treating a chancre on the penis

When caused by syphilis, the STD itself must be treated with a shot of penicillin. Any partners who may have been exposed should also be tested and treated. Also, be sure to abstain from sex until treatment is completed to avoid reinfection. It’s important to test for syphilis and receive treatment promptly. Left untreated, syphilis can lead to serious health complications, which occur during its third stage. 

If caused by other STDs, antiviral medication can treat and suppress genital herpes outbreaks, while a doctor must remove genital warts. If the chancre is from a non-STD cause, a doctor can determine proper treatment.

Source: CDC Syphilis Fact Sheet

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