How Does Leukemia Cause Priapism?

Priapism is a pathological condition which is characterized by the persistent, involuntary and painful erection of the penis unrelated to sexual stimulation. Leukemia is a cancer of blood which is caused by abnormal production of damaged white blood cells. Priapism is sometimes the symptom or complication of leukemia. About 25 % of cases of priapism are associated with leukemia. It can happen at any age in males. If it lasts more than 4 hours, it requires emergent management. If it is not treated in time, it can result in erectile dysfunction and permanent damage to the penis.

How Does Leukemia Cause Priapism?

How Does Leukemia Cause Priapism?

Leukemia can cause priapism by the infiltration of abnormal white blood cells into the penis affecting the blood flow in the penis.

Priapism is a rare condition of the penis which is marked by the involuntary, painful and prolonged erection of the penis unrelated to sexual arousal. It is more aggravated by sexual activities and not relieved by ejaculation. It goes by itself within 2 hours. It can develop in males at any age due to pathological reasons and other idiopathic causes. It is most common at the age of 5-10 years or 20-30 years.

An erection happens as a result of physical or psychological stimulation in a normal situation. This stimulation leads to contraction and relaxation of smooth muscles and blood vessels of penis accelerating the flow of blood to them. This results in the erection of the penis. Once the stimulation goes away, there is a reduction in the blood flow, resulting in the end of the erection.

Priapism is caused by insufficient blood flow in the penis. The blood gets trapped in the erection chambers of the penis and is not able to drain out.

Types of Priapism

Ischaemic or Low Flow Priapism

It happens due to disruption in the blood flow to the penis. The blood gets stuck in the penis after erection and is not drained out. It is the most common type of priapism. It is represented by progressive pain mainly caused by blood disorders like sickle cell anemia, leukemia or other blood malignancies. The erections are short durational at the beginning and may progress to frequent and prolonged erections.

Non-Ischemic or High Flow Priapism

This type of priapism is caused due to disruption in the regulation of blood flow in the penis. It does not cause pain in most cases.

Leukemia is a cancer of blood caused by abnormal proliferation of damaged white cells. It is sometimes associated with priapism usually 25% of all priapism cases. Priapism can be one of the symptoms of leukemia.

Leukemia causes low-flow priapism. It is caused by the destruction of the leukocytes. This may lead to accumulation of leukemic cells in carpora cavernosa and dorsal veins of the penis. It can also be caused by venous congestion in these tissues due to mechanical pressure exerted by abdominal veins triggered by enlargement of the spleen.

Sometimes, leukemia can cause infiltration of damaged or abnormal white blood cells into the sacral nerves that supply the penis or into the central nervous system. Leukemia can also increase the viscosity of the blood. Hyper viscous blood may get trapped in the blood vessels of the penis after erection and it is not drained out in time. This can also trigger priapism.

Priapism is a pathological urgency in leukemia. It needs immediate medical intervention if the erection continuous for more than 4 hours. The main reason behind this is the disruption of adequate blood flow in the penis causes scarring and fibrosis of the normal tissues of the penis. This may lead to permanent damage of the penis. It may result in permanent erectile dysfunction and infertility.


Priapism is an uncommon condition of a painful, persistent and involuntary erection of the penis for a long time without a sexual stimulation, not relieved by ejaculation.

Also Read:

Pramod Kerkar, M.D., FFARCSI, DA
Pramod Kerkar, M.D., FFARCSI, DA
Written, Edited or Reviewed By: Pramod Kerkar, M.D., FFARCSI, DA Pain Assist Inc. This article does not provide medical advice. See disclaimer
Last Modified On:April 2, 2019

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