Men have unique dermatologic needs yet are significantly less likely than women to visit a dermatologist’s office.1 Male patients might have preconceived notions about the nature of dermatology visits and necessary areas of the body to be examined: For example, male patients might associate the genital examination with a urologist and not expect a dermatologist to complete such a seemingly private examination.2
Genital examinations are currently underperformed: Only one-quarter of dermatologists report examining a male patient’s genitals at most or all visits.3 In this commentary, we discuss the importance of genital examinations in men’s dermatology, specific issues that can arise, and strategies to enhance the quality and frequency of genital examinations in male patients.
Invaluable Aspect of Care
Thorough inspection of a male patient’s genital region is an important part of conducting a total-body skin examination (TBSE) for routine surveillance and evaluation of genital dermatoses. Sexually transmitted infections, warts, and other common lesions can be missed in diagnosis without careful inspection of the genital region. Additionally, scrotal malignancies, such as primary and metastatic melanoma and basal cell carcinoma, though rare, might be overlooked until symptoms become severe.4,5
There is no substitute for a physical examination but, in certain circumstances, it might be appropriate for a dermatologist to ask a patient if he has concerning lesions on his genitals. However, patients often are unsure of worrisome signs, and areas of the perineum might not be easily visible to a patient. Genital inspection during the physical examination allows for a teachable moment, during which the dermatologist can educate the patient about benign lesions and variants, such as pearly penile papules, seborrheic keratoses, and sebaceous cysts.6 These lesions might not require intervention but should be monitored for atypical features or infection.6
Also, the dermatologist might incidentally discover transmissible lesions, such as condylomata caused by human papillomavirus, which has been shown to be present in approximately 50% of men in the United States7—many of whom are unaware. Inflammatory dermatoses, such as psoriasis, often affect the genitals and go unnoticed; prompt intervention can decrease the likelihood of complications.6
Protocol for Genital Examinations
To examine the genitals, all surfaces of the penis, scrotum, and perineum should be evaluated, with anatomic and pathologic variants noted. The patient or physician should stretch the penis, maneuvering it in multiple directions so that all aspects can be examined. In uncircumcised men, the foreskin should be retracted so that the head of the penis can be examined, followed by replacement of the foreskin by the patient.8 The scrotum also should be examined and lifted to fully view the perineum.
Providers should not grasp the penis with the whole hand but use the thumb and first finger to hold the head of the penis to maneuver it.8 Similarly, using the back of the hand and fingers to manipulate the genitals establishes boundaries and sets a clinical tone for the examination.