What is Human Papilloma Virus (HPV)?
Human Papilloma Virus (HPV) is a very common sexually transmitted virus. There are more than 100 types of HPV that can affect different parts of the body. Out of the 100 types, about 30 types of HPV can affect the genitals including rectum and anus. About 14 types of HPV are considered high risk that can lead to cancer. HPV types 6 and 11 typically cause genital warts and HPV types 16 and 18 cause most HPV-related cancers.
Can men get HPV?
HPV is usually associated with women as it can be common among females and will lead to cervical cancer. However, men also can get HPV infections. In men, HPV infection can be asymptomatic, so this makes diagnosing HPV in men more difficult compared to women. It is also possible for the virus to clear out of the body by itself without treatment given enough time.
How do men get HPV?
Men can get HPV infection by having vaginal, oral or anal sex with someone who has the virus. Whether the partner is male or female is irrelevant in this case. HPV will also spread through close skin to skin contact during sexual activity, especially if the partner is symptomatic (warts or abnormal skin appearance or having discharge). HPV can spread even when a person with the infection has no signs and symptoms.
What are the symptoms of HPV in men?
Some men will come to see a doctor with symptoms including:
- Unusual growth
These can occur at any part of the body but more commonly at the genital region.
Most commonly, patients will come in with warts. Warts usually appear as a small or a group of bumps on penile or anal region. Genital warts can recur after treatment. This usually means that the virus is still dormant in the body. There is no perfect cure for HPV, as with HSV and HIV. It is something we can manage at the time of a flare but it can recur at any time as long as the virus is still within the body system.
Can HPV cause cancer in men?
Yes. HPV itself is not cancer but it can cause changes in body and lead to cancer. Cancers from HPV are not common in men. If a person is immunocompromised or has a long-standing infection, it is more likely that an HPV infection can lead to cancer.
Types of cancer from an HPV infection in men include:
- Penile cancer
- Anal cancer
- Oropharyngeal cancer
How is HPV diagnosed?
Lab investigations are not necessary to diagnose HPV. If you have skin symptoms such as warts or abnormal lumps, we can diagnose HPV via a simple clinical examination. Some centers will be able to run a urine PCR test for HPV infection but the accuracy of this test is questionable. There is no blood test available for HPV. Some centers will offer anal Pap tests for homosexual or bisexual men, who are at higher risk of anal cancer caused by HPV.
How is HPV being treated?
There is no cure for HPV infection. However, HPV virus can resolve after some time. In fact, about 70 to 90 percent of cases of HPV infection are cleared from body by immune system by just after two years.
The only reason treatment is needed is to relieve the symptoms by removing warts or abnormal growth. These includes:
- Radiofrequency removal
- Laser therapy
- Topical cream
How to prevent from HPV infection?
HPV infection can be prevented by wearing condoms during sexual intercourse. However, condoms do not cover all parts of genital skin which means it is not 100% protect from HPV. The most effective way to prevent HPV is to get vaccinated against HPV.
The most commonly used vaccine is Gardasil-9.
- Gardasil 9 protects against the development of genital warts in men.
- 3 shots of the vaccine is needed in order to get protection from HPV
- It can be given to men from age 9 to 45
If someone already has HPV or has exposure to HPV, the vaccine will not cure the infection but it helps to protect against other types of HPV infection. Thus, we strongly advise those who have genital warts/HPV symptoms to get HPV vaccine even though it won’t cure the infection.
We advise that all people get vaccinated against HPV before they are sexually active to prevent the infection and stop the propagation of the virus.