Does HPV affect men?

genital wart caused by HPV infection

Q: I heard HPV (Human Papilloma Virus) causes cancer in women, but does it affect men too?

A: Absolutely!  It is estimated that up to 75-80% of all sexually active individuals – men and women – will become infected with HPV at some time in their lives.  HPV is spread by direct contact with infected skin or mucus membranes (such as the vagina, anus or mouth) so even if you’re wearing a condom, the skin around it that is uncovered can be exposed to the virus.  While most men infected with HPV have no symptoms, there are several conditions that can be caused by the virus:

Genital Warts

These can appear as flesh-colored growths on the penis, testicles, groin or anal area. They can be raised, flat or cauliflower-shaped. Warts can be treated with topical medicine or frozen off but they often return.  Warts may clear on their own, but they may also become larger or begin spreading over the skin surface. There are over 100 types of HPV; the types that cause genital warts usually do not cause cancer but it is possible to become infected with more than one type at a time. 

Anal Cancer

A few specific types of HPV are implicated as the leading cause of anal cancer but this isn’t known for sure.  Anal cancer is more likely to occur in men who engage in receptive anal intercourse but both anal HPV and anal cancer can occur in men who have never engaged in this activity.  HPV can be spread to your partner’s anus if you have warts or other HPV types on your penis or in your mouth and you perform insertive anal intercourse or oral-to-anal sexual activities.

Penile Cancer

Penile cancer, like anal cancer, is widely attributed to specific types of HPV.  This cancer is very rare, occurring in only about 1 in 100,000 circumcised males in the US.  In other regions of the world such as South America, Africa and Asia, the incidence of penile cancer is far greater and accounts for up to 10% of all malignant tumors in these regions. Penile cancer affects approximately 7,000 men annually worldwide.

Throat Cancer

Throat cancer has had a dramatic increase in recent years.  HPV can be spread from the anogenital areas to the mouth and throat (and vice versa) via oral sex.  HPV can lead to tumors of the throat, tonsils and tongue.  Oral sex isn’t necessarily safe sex!  You should use condoms and dental dams even for oral sex.

Angela Walker, Med IV (OSU COM)

David Lehnus, CNP (OSU SHS)