Anonymous on September 23, 2011

What are the signs of HPV in men?

What are the signs of HPV in men and what is the treatment for it? Also, are there other ways to contract HPV besides sexual intercourse?

answered by Ruthann M. Cunningham, MD on September 23, 2011

I’m glad you asked this question...while information about HPV in women is more readily available, finding information about HPV in men can be more difficult. I’ll try to help.

To begin, human papillomavirus (HPV) is a virus with over 100 different types...some of which you can catch without sexual intercourse. However, the types of HPV you’re probably referring to are the kinds that are transmitted mostly through sexual activity, and potentially resulting in genital warts or even cancer (most commonly, cervical cancer in women). 

So, what are the signs and symptoms of HPV in men? Actually, may people with HPV don’t have any signs or symptoms of disease at all. 

If you do get symptoms from the type of HPV that causes genital warts, you’ll likely develop them in the “boxer shorts area” (in other words, you can get genital warts on the skin that your boxer shorts cover). What should you look for? Genital warts can look different on different people. Some are smooth while others are rough, some are raised while others are flat, and some look cauliflower. To learn more about symptoms of genital warts, risks, prevention and treatment, visit our HPV Overview

Also, the types of HPV that cause cancer rarely affect men; however in a few cases, HPV can contribute to penile, anal or throat cancers. These kinds of cancer happen more often in men whose immune systems aren’t as men with human immunodeficiency virus (HIV) have a higher chance of developing cancer because of HPV. 

Also, men who practice anal sex with other men are more likely to catch HPV in the anal area which, in turn, contributes to an increased incidence of anal cancer in men who have sex with men (MSM). Men can also get HPV of the throat...a condition that a 2007 study published in the The New England Journal of Medicine linked to the development of throat cancer.

How do men get tested for HPV? Unfortunately, there is not yet a reliable way to test for the virus in men. There is one exception, however: men who have sex with men can get an anal Pap test. This test, just like the vaginal Pap test in women, looks for cells in the anus that could become cancerous...if abnormal cells are detected, they can be removed before cancer has a chance to develop. 

If you’re a man who doesn’t have sex with men and you don’t receive anal sex, then the best thing to do is pay attention to your body for any changes over time. Look for bumps near your genitals that could be genital warts and ⎼ if you notice any visible symptoms ⎼ see your regular doctor for a visual examination and treatment, if necessary.

It’s also a good idea to practice safer sex if you think you might have HPV. Even if you don’t have any symptoms of HPV, you could spread the virus to your current or future partner(s)...but using condoms reduces that risk. 

If you’d like to learn more about HPV in men, please also see my answer to a related question.

I hope this information was helpful, and I wish you good health. 

Related info:

Ruthann M. Cunningham, MD

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.

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