HPV Virus (Genital Warts ) in Men Introduction
Much of the information about HPV virus (human
papillomavirus) centers on women, since having the virus increases their risk of
getting cervical cancer. But HPV virus in men can cause health problems, too. So
it’s important for men to understand how to reduce the risks of HPV infection.
More than half of men who are sexually active in the United States will have
HPV at some time in their life. Often, a man will clear the virus on his own,
with no health problems.
Risks of HPV Virus in Men
Some of the 30 or so types of HPV associated with
genital cancers can lead to cancer of the anus or
penis in men. Both of these
cancer types are rare. In those with a healthy immune system, they are even
rarer. About 1,530 men in the U.S. were diagnosed with cancer of the penis in
2006, according to American Cancer Society estimates. About 1,910 men got a
diagnosis of anal cancer.
The risk of anal cancer is about 17 times higher in sexually active gay and
bisexual men than in men who have sex only with women. Men who have HIV (human
immunodeficiency virus) are also at higher risk of getting this cancer.
Male HPV: The Symptoms
The types of high-risk HPV that can cause cancer
rarely present any symptoms in men or in women. Genital warts are the first
symptom you may see with low-risk HPV strains that cause warts but not cancer.
Tests for HPV Virus in Men
To diagnose genital warts in men, the doctor will
visually check a man’s genital area to see if warts are present. Some doctors
will apply a vinegar solution to help identify warts that aren’t raised and
visible. But the test is not foolproof. Sometimes normal skin is mistakenly
identified as a wart.
There is no routine test for men to check for high-risk HPV strains that can
cause cancer. However, some doctors are urging anal Pap tests for gay and
bisexual men, who are at higher risk of anal cancer caused by HPV. In an anal
Pap test, the doctor collects cells from the anus, and then has them checked for
abnormalities in a lab.
Treatments for HPV
There is no treatment for asymptomatic HPV infection.
Instead, doctors treat the health problems that are caused by the HPV virus.
When genital warts appear, a variety of treatments can be used. The patient
can apply prescription creams at home. Or a doctor can surgically remove or
freeze off the warts.
Early treatment of warts is discouraged by some doctors because genital warts
can go away on their own. It can also take time for all warts to appear. So a
person who treats warts as soon as they appear may need another treatment later
What is the most common cause of cervical cancer?
HPV Vaccine for Men?
Studies are still being done to determine if the vaccine works in males.
Eventually, public health experts say, boys and men may be vaccinated.
How to Manage HPV in a Relationship
If a man’s long-term sexual partner has
HPV, chances are good HPV transmission has already occurred and he also has it.
HPV in men may clear from the body more easily than in women. Women, in general,
often clear the virus in two years or less.
The HPV types associated with cervical cancer usually do not cause health
problems for a heterosexual man having sex with an HPV-infected woman.
If a partner has HPV, it does not necessarily mean they have had sex with
someone else recently. The virus can lay dormant in the body for years without
causing noticeable symptoms.
How to Prevent Transmission of HPV
Abstinence is the only sure way to prevent
HPV transmission. Risk of transmission can be lowered if a person has sex only
with one person who is not infected and who is monogamous.
To lower the risk of HPV transmission, men can also limit the number of sex
partners and pick partners who have had few or no partners in the past.
Condoms can provide some protection against HPV transmission. But they aren’t
100% effective, since HPV is transmitted primarily by skin-to-skin contact. The
virus can still infect the skin uncovered by the condom.
In a recent study of young women who had just become sexually active, those
whose partners used a condom each time they had sex were 70% less likely to get
an HPV infection than were women whose partners used a condom less than 5% of
WebMD Medical Reference
SOURCES: Joel Palefsky, MD, professor of medicine, University of California,
San Francisco. CDC: "HPV and Men," and "HPV Vaccine: Questions and Answers."
American Social Health Association: "HPV: Genital Warts: Questions &
Answers," and ""What Men Should Know." Diane Harper, MD, MPH, professor of
community and family medicine and obstetrics and gynecology, Dartmouth Medical
School, Hanover, N.H. Joan Walker, MD, gynecologic oncologist, University of
Oklahoma Health Sciences Center, Oklahoma City. Winer R. New England Journal of
Medicine, June 22, 2006: vol 354: pp 2645-2654.
Reviewed by Louise Chang, MD on April 24, 2007
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