Syphilis Sores: Everything to Know About Chancres

Syphilis is a sexually transmitted infection that can cause sores to develop on or around the genital area, anus, lips, and mouth. These sores are known as chancres. Having intimate contact with a person who has these sores can lead to a syphilis infection.

Learn more about the risk factors, prevention strategies, diagnosis, and treatment options for syphilis chancres.

man covering genitals

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What Do Chancres Look Like?

A chancre is a sore caused by syphilis. The appearance of a chancre may vary based on the stage of the syphilis infection.

In the first stage of syphilis, called the primary phase, only one chancre may be present. Sometimes, there may be multiple chancres in the primary phase.

In this stage of the infection the chancre is typically painless and may appear:

  • Firm
  • Round

In the secondary stage of a syphilis infection, the chancre may begin healing. It may also be accompanied by a rash that is:

  • Reddish-brown
  • Red
  • Rough
  • Faint

Lesions may also appear that may be:

  • White
  • Gray
  • Raised
  • Large

Where Are Chancres Typically Located?

A chancre can form in an area where syphilis enters the body. This can include around or on the:

  • Vagina
  • Penis
  • Rectum
  • Anus
  • Lips
  • Mouth

If they appear in the vagina or anus, they may be difficult to spot.

What Causes Chancres?

Chancres are caused by syphilis, a sexually transmitted infection (STI).

This STI is caused by a bacteria called Treponema pallidum. When this form of bacteria gets into mucus membranes like the genitals or into broken skin, it causes an infection.

Syphilis is spread from person to person via close contact with a syphilis sore. You can also transmit through condyloma lata (flesh-colored or hypopigmented, macerated papules or plaques). This includes through sexual contact like:

  • Vaginal sex
  • Anal sex
  • Oral sex

It is also possible for a mother infected with syphilis to pass the infection on to her unborn baby.

It is not possible to contract syphilis through casual contact—like sharing clothes, utensils, or toilet seats.

Risk Factors and Prevention Strategies

Anyone who is sexually active can get syphilis.

In the United States, the majority of cases of syphilis are among:

  • Gay men
  • Bisexual men
  • Men who have sex with men

Rates of infection have been rising among men who have sex with men for two decades.

The only way to completely prevent syphilis is to refrain from having sex of any kind including vaginal, anal, or oral sex.

If you are sexually active, barrier protection is an effective strategy. Using condoms correctly every time you have sex and not sharing sex toys are other strategies to prevent infection.

Diagnosing Syphilis

Anyone who is displaying symptoms of syphilis should be tested.

Diagnosing syphilis may involve:

  • A physical examination: This involves a healthcare provider examining the genitals to look for chancres or rashes.
  • A blood test: This can help healthcare providers determine if someone is currently infected with syphilis or has been in the past.


Syphilis can be successfully treated with antibiotics. These may include:

  • Penicillin G benzathine
  • Doxycycline

The duration of treatment will vary based on the severity of the syphilis infection, as well as the overall health status of the person infected.

What to Expect

Both primary and secondary syphilis can be successfully cured if the infection is diagnosed early and treatment is completed.

In the primary stage of syphilis, chancres may heal in three to six weeks even without treatment. However, treatment is still needed to stop the infection from progressing to secondary or later stages of syphilis.

If left untreated, up to one-third of people infected with syphilis will develop late complications. This can lead to damage to multiple organs and systems in the body and may be life-threatening.

Complications of untreated syphilis

If left untreated, syphilis can progress to the most serious stage, known as tertiary stage syphilis.

This can be life-threatening and impact multiple organ systems of the body including the:

  • Heart
  • Brain
  • Blood vessels
  • Liver
  • Bones
  • Eyes
  • Nerves
  • Joints

Other Early Syphilis Symptoms

 As well as chancres, early stages of syphilis may be accompanied by other symptoms including:

  • A rash on the palms or soles of the feet
  • Weight loss
  • Muscle soreness
  • Sore throat
  • Headache
  • Fever
  • Swollen lymph glands
  • Hair loss that is patchy
  • Fatigue

When to See a Healthcare Provider

You should arrange to see a healthcare provider if you are displaying any symptoms that could be indicative of syphilis.

You should also contact your healthcare provider or attend an STI clinic if:

  • You have multiple sexual partners.
  • You have unknown sexual partners.
  • You are using intravenous drugs.
  • You have been intimate with someone who is infected with syphilis or other STIs.


Chancres are a form of sore that develops in syphilis. They may appear on or around the genitals, anus, mouth, or lips. Having intimate contact with a person who has chancres can lead to a syphilis infection. Chancres may be round and firm and painless. They may go away without treatment; however, treatment with antibiotics is necessary to avoid a syphilis infection progressing to later stages that can be dangerous.

A Word From Verywell

Coping with a sexually transmitted infection can be overwhelming, but you are not alone. If you suspect you might have syphilis, reach out to your healthcare provider for testing and support. Remember, syphilis can be successfully treated with antibiotics if caught early enough.

Frequently Asked Questions

  • What are the first signs of syphilis?

    In primary stage syphilis, the first symptom is often a single sore, called a chancre. There may be multiple sores.

    These may be painless, round, and firm.

  • How soon does a syphilis chancre appear?

    On average, the time between contracting syphilis and the onset of the first symptoms is 21 days.

    But this can range from 10 days to 90 days.

  • Are syphilis chancres painful?

    Chancres are typically (but not always) painless. Some people may not even notice them due to not feeling any pain.

  • How long does it take a chancre to go away?

    A chancre typically goes away after three to six weeks, even without treatment. But it is important to remember treatment is still necessary to stop the infection from progressing to later stages, which may lead to complications.

6 Sources
Verywell Health uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
  1. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Syphilis – CDC fact sheet (detailed).

  2. Penn Medicine. Syphilis.

  3. NHS. Overview - syphilis.

  4. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Syphilis & MSM (men who have sex with men) – CDC fact sheet.

  5. NHS. Testing - syphilis.

  6. MedlinePlus. Syphilis.