Human papillomavirus (HPV) is the most widespread sexually transmitted infection (STI) in the United States.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), almost everyone who is sexually active but unvaccinated for HPV will have it at some point in their lives.
Almost 80 million Americans are infected with the virus. About 14 million new cases are added each year. For many, the infection will go away on its own. In rare cases, HPV is a potentially serious risk factor for certain kinds of cancer.
Low-risk HPVs can cause warts. They generally produce little to no other symptoms. They tend to resolve on their own without any long-term effects.
High-risk HPVs are more aggressive forms of the virus that may require medical treatment. Sometimes, they can also cause cell changes that may lead to cancer.
Most men with HPV never experience symptoms or realize that they have the infection.
If you have an infection that won’t go away, you may begin to notice genital warts on your:
Warts may also occur on the back of your throat. If you notice any abnormal skin changes in these areas, see a doctor immediately for further evaluation.
Both men and women can contract HPV from having vaginal, anal, or oral sex with an infected partner. Most people infected with HPV unknowingly pass it on to their partner because they’re unaware of their own HPV status.
Although HPV is common in both men and women, health problems resulting from HPV are less common in men. Three male subpopulations are at an increased risk for developing HPV-related health problems. These include:
- uncircumcised men
- men with weak immune systems due to HIV or organ transplant
- men who engage in anal sex or sexual activity with other men
It’s important to understand the relationship between HPV and cancer in both men and women.
Data from 2010 to 2014 indicates that there are approximately 41,000 HPV-related cancers in the United States each year. Of these, almost 24,000 occurred in women and about 17,000 occurred in men.
The primary cancers caused by HPV are:
- cervical, vaginal, and vulvar cancer in women
- penile cancer in men
- throat and anal cancer in men and women
Due to the high correlation between cervical cancer and HPV, much effort has gone into creating tools to diagnose HPV in women. Currently, there are no approved tests to detect HPV in men. Some people may carry and possibly spread the virus for years without ever knowing.
If you do notice any HPV-related symptoms, it’s important to report them to your doctor. You should see your doctor immediately if you notice any abnormal skin growths or changes in your penile, scrotal, anal, or throat areas. These may be early signs of cancerous growths.
There’s currently no cure for HPV. However, most health problems that are caused by HPV are treatable. If you develop genital warts, your doctor will use a variety of topical and oral medications to treat the condition.
HPV-related cancers are also treatable, especially when diagnosed at an early stage. A doctor who specializes in cancer treatment can assess the cancer and provide an appropriate treatment plan. Early intervention is key, so you should see a doctor immediately if you’re experiencing any unusual symptoms.
You can also diminish risk somewhat by:
- avoiding sexual contact with a partner if genital warts are present
- using condoms correctly and consistently