OBJECTIVE: To evaluate the accuracy of fine-needle aspiration (FNA) cytology of palpable inguinal lymphadenopathy before definitive management of the primary tumour, in predicting inguinal lymph node (LN) metastasis in men with primary squamous cell carcinoma (SCC) of the penis. PATIENTS AND METHODS: Sixteen men with primary SCC of the penis and palpable inguinal lymphadenopathy (unilateral or bilateral) were treated by primary resection and bilateral inguinal LN dissection. FNA cytology was analysed for 25 palpable inguinal LNs at the time of penile biopsy. The sensitivity, specificity and accuracy of FNA cytology was compared with the histological findings from surgical LN clearance. RESULTS: The 25 FNAs were without complication and without evidence of implantation of metastasis in the needle tracts; 14 FNA samples were positive for metastasis, 10 were negative, and one was inconclusive. From the histological assessment of the surgical inguinal LN specimens, FNA cytology had a sensitivity of 93%, and specificity of 91% in predicting metastatic disease. CONCLUSION: FNA cytology of palpable inguinal lymphadenopathy before surgery for the primary tumour has a high sensitivity and specificity for metastatic penile cancer. This procedure permits early inguinal lymphadenectomy where appropriate without need for prolonged initial antibiotic treatment.