Peyronie’s disease, a condition of
uncertain cause, is characterized by a plaque, or hard lump, that forms on the
penis. The plaque develops on the upper or lower side of the penis in layers
containing erectile tissue. It begins as a localized inflammation and can
develop into a hardened scar.
Cases of Peyronie’s disease range from mild
to severe. Symptoms may develop slowly or appear overnight. In severe cases, the
hardened plaque reduces flexibility, causing pain and forcing the penis to bend
or arc during erection. In many cases, the pain decreases over time, but the
bend in the penis may remain a problem, making sexual intercourse difficult. The
sexual problems that result can disrupt a couple’s physical and emotional
relationship and lead to lowered self-esteem in the man. In a small percentage
of patients with the milder form of the disease, inflammation may resolve
without causing significant pain or permanent bending.
The plaque itself is benign, or
noncancerous. A plaque on the top of the shaft (most common) causes the penis to
bend upward; a plaque on the underside causes it to bend downward. In some
cases, the plaque develops on both top and bottom, leading to indentation and
shortening of the penis. At times, pain, bending, and emotional distress
prohibit sexual intercourse.
One study found Peyronie’s disease in 1
percent of men. Although the disease occurs mostly in middle age, younger and
older men can develop it. About 30 percent of men with Peyronie’s disease
develop fibrosis (hardened cells) in other elastic tissues of the body, such as
on the hand or foot. A common example is a condition known as Dupuytren’s
contracture of the hand. In some cases, men who are related by blood tend to
develop Peyronie’s disease, which suggests that genetic factors might make a man
vulnerable to the disease.