Can HPV cause cancer in men? How do I get tested?
My partner went for a routine Pap test and found out she has HPV...the kind that causes cervical cancer. I’m worried about how this could affect me. The gynecologist said that HPV can’t affect men and there aren’t any tests to see if men have it. Is that true? Will this type of HPV give me warts? Should we only have sex with a condom and no oral contact until we get the results back?
Ruthann M. Cunningham, MD on September 20, 2011
Your raised a few excellent questions that I’ll do my best to answer.
You’re on the right track: HPV that causes cervical cancer doesn’t usually affect men. Very rarely, however, men can develop cancer related to HPV on their penis, anus or throat. But the incidence of these kinds of cancers is low... and when they do occur in men, it’s usually among those with weakened immune systems. For example, men who have human immunodeficiency virus (HIV) are more likely to develop these kinds of cancers. Also, men who have sex with men have a 17 times higher likelihood of developing anal cancer than men who have sex with women only.
You should also know that many of the men that develop HPV-related cancer of the throat also generally smoke and drink heavily...if that’s you, you might have something to worry about. If not, again, your risk is minimal.
Your girlfriend’s gynecologist is also right that we usually can’t test for HPV in men. So far, researchers haven’t figured a reliable test for HPV in men. There’s one exception...we can test for HPV in men who practice anal receptive intercourse by doing an anal Pap test. You can learn more about this in my answer to a related question.
Rest assured, the type of HPV that causes cervical cancer won’t give you warts. There are quite a few different types of HPV and the one that causes cervical cancer is distinct from the one that causes genital warts. That means you probably won’t develop genital warts unless you or your girlfriend also happen to have that kind of HPV.
Going forward, it’s a good idea to practice safer sex...but know that HPV can spread even when you use protection. HPV is spread through skin-to-skin contact...which means it’s possible to spread the virus even while using a condom. But condoms can help reduce the risk ⎼ it’s a good idea to use a condom when you have vaginal or anal sex with your girlfriend, and use a condom or dental dam during oral sex.
To learn more about HPV risks treatment and testing, browse our HPV Overview.
Thanks again for your timely question...a lot of people have similar concerns to yours. I wish you and your girlfriend good sexual health.
Dr. Cunningham is a member of the Analyte Physicans Group. She's also a member of the American College of Emergency Physicians, practicing at both Northwestern Lake Forest Hospital in Illinois and at Wheaton Franciscan All Saints Medical Center in Wisconsin. An ER physician since 2000, she regularly treats patients with STDs. Dr. Cunningham was educated at Wayne State University School of Medicine and completed her Emergency Medicine residency at Cook County Hospital in Chicago, IL.