What is HPV in men?
HPV is a group of viruses that can be spread through vaginal, anal, or oral sex, or through close skin-to-skin contact. HPV stands for human papilloma virus, and you can transmit it to other people even if you don’t have symptoms.
HPV is very common and can affect both men and women. About 79 million Americans have HPV, and most of them are in their late teens or early twenties.
Symptoms of HPV in men
Most people who become infected with HPV contract the virus after they become sexually active. There are more than 200 types of HPV, and some types are spread through sexual intercourse with an infected partner. Some types can cause cancer.
There are two categories of HPV: cutaneous (skin) HPV and mucosal (genital) HPV. HPV generally appears as noncancerous tumors called warts or papillomas.
Cutaneous HPV symptoms
Symptoms of cutaneous HPV include:
- Common warts: These can appear anywhere on your body but are commonly found on your hands, feet, and sometimes your face.
- Plantar warts: These warts can appear anywhere on your body, but they usually appear on the plantar (right side) of your foot on the heel or ball.
Mucosal (genital) HPV symptoms
Mucosal (genital) HPV is divided into low-risk and high-risk HPV.
The symptom of low-risk HPV is genital warts. Low-risk HPV in men causes genital warts on your scrotum, penis, and around your anus. The warts are cauliflower-shaped and may not be painful but may be itchy or tender. These warts are considered low-risk because they are not likely to develop into cancer.
High-risk HPV does not usually have any symptoms. High-risk HPV infections that last for a long time or go untreated can cause changes and abnormalities in cells that can develop into cancer, including:
However, it is uncommon for HPV to cause cancer in men.
Causes of HPV in men
An HPV infection occurs when the virus enters your body, usually through a cut or skin abrasion. It is transmitted through skin-to-skin contact.
Common warts on the feet are often contracted in locker rooms and public showers and washrooms. Genital warts are contracted through sexual intercourse and intimate skin contact. They can spread to the mouth and throat through oral sex with someone who is infected with the virus.
HPV is very common, but certain factors may contribute to a greater risk of becoming infected with HPV. These include:
Young children are more susceptible to common warts. Teens and young adults are more likely to contract genital warts.
Intimate skin contact with genital warts or contact with areas that have been exposed to common warts may increase the risk of contracting HPV.
Multiple sexual partners
The more sexual partners you have, the greater your risk of contracting HPV. Having sex with someone who has multiple sexual partners also increases your risk for getting the virus. Men who engage in anal sex are also more likely to get HPV.
Weakened immune system
Your body normally fights off HPV very well. If you have a weakened immune system due to other diseases, medications like steroids or cancer treatment, or an organ transplant, you may be more susceptible to an infection.
HPV enters your body through small cuts, wounds, tears, abrasions, or other damage. Being exposed to the virus while you have skin damage may increase your risk of developing cutaneous (skin) HPV.
Sex at an early age
If you start having any type of sex at any early age, you may have an increased risk of developing HPV.
Tests for HPV in men
HPV tests have only been approved by the FDA for women. While men can be infected with HPV, there are no approved tests available for men. However, your doctor may do an anal pap test if have had anal sex.
Your doctor will be able to diagnose low-risk HPV and cutaneous HPV through a physical or visual exam. They will also take your personal and medical history to determine your risk.
Treatments for HPV in men
There isn’t a treatment or a cure for HPV itself, but your immune system generally does a good job of fending off an infection. Most men recover from HPV without experiencing any symptoms.
Symptoms like warts and cancer that are caused by the virus can be treated.
Treatments for warts include:
- Surgical removal
- Cryotherapy, or freezing
- Laser removal
Treatments for cancer caused by HPV include:
As part of HPV prevention, your doctor may recommend using a condom when you have sex. Condoms do not completely protect you from HPV because skin that is not covered by a condom can still come in contact with the virus. However, using a condom greatly reduces your chance of getting HPV during sex.
The American Cancer Society recommends that boys and girls receive the vaccine between age 9 and 12 and that teens and young adults between the ages of 13 and 26 who have not received the vaccine get vaccinated as soon as possible.
American Cancer Society: "HPV Vaccines."
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention: "HPV and Men – Fact Sheet."
Frontiers in Oncology: "Mucosal and Cutaneous Human Papillomavirus Infections and Cancer Biology."
Luria, L. and Cardoza-Favarato, G. StatPearls, StatPearls Publishing, 2020.
Medline Plus: "HPV."
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