Human papillomavirus (HPV) is a group of over 100 viruses that affect the skin and moist membranes that line the body.
HPV symptoms in men
The HPV virus causes specific symptoms in men.
Although most men who get HPV do not show any symptoms, some develop growths or warts.
These may occur on the:
- groin and thighs
- tongue and top of the mouth
Genital warts can be small or large, flat or raised, or cauliflower-shaped. They might appear as a bump or group of bumps in the area surrounding the penis, anus, or genitals.
These warts do not often hurt but can be unsightly.
HPV is not cancer, but the infection can cause changes in the body that may lead to cancer. Cancer may go undiagnosed for years after a person has HPV because the changes in infected cells build up very slowly.
The symptoms of HPV-related anal cancer include:
- bleeding, discharge, pain, or itching of the anus
- swelling in the anal or groin area
- changes in bowel habits or the shape of stools
Penile cancer can lead to:
- tissue changes on the penis such as color, skin thickening, or tissue build-up
- painful or painless sores or growths on the penis that might bleed
Cancer of the back of the throat can trigger:
- constant sore throat or ear pain
- persistent coughing
- trouble breathing or swallowing
- weight loss
- voice changes or hoarseness
- lumps or growths in the neck
There is no way to distinguish a case of temporary HPV from one that could progress into cancer.
HPV transmits through direct, intimate contact, including sexual contact, for both men and women. The virus can spread from one person to another through oral, anal, or vaginal sex, or if the skin touches that of another person.
If a person has HPV, the virus can be spread, even when there have never been visible symptoms.
The chance of contracting HPV is increased by certain factors:
- a sexual history that includes multiple partners
- age, occurring more often during adolescence or young adulthood
- being uncircumcised
- damaged skin
It is important to consult a doctor if warts of any kind appear on the genitals, or if warts occur that cause discomfort or pain.
While some types of HPV can only cause genital warts, other types can cause cancers as well.
Doctors diagnose around 41,000 HPV-related cancers yearly in the United States. Roughly 17,300 of these cancers occur in men.
In men, HPV is linked to the development of the following cancers:
- HPV might be responsible for over 90 percent of cases of anal cancer, which affect 1,500 men each year.
- Over 60 percent of penile cancers come from HPV.
- Around 70 percent of people with oropharyngeal cancer, which occurs in the back of the throat, the base of the tongue, and tonsils, might have it due to HPV.
Compared with men who have sex with only women, men who have sex with men are 17 times more likely to develop HPV-related anal cancer.
Men who have a weakened immune system, due to HIV or other reasons, have a higher chance of developing HPV-related anal cancer. Men with HIV tend to develop more severe genital warts that are harder to treat.
A doctor can use cryotherapy to freeze off genital warts.
There are no treatments for HPV, but there are treatments for HPV-related conditions, as well as some of its symptoms.
There is currently no routine screening to diagnose HPV in men. However, a doctor might be able to diagnose HPV infection by examining any warts that have appeared. If a man has several risk factors, a doctor may also swab the anal region for HPV.
A doctor can treat genital warts with prescription medication or surgically remove them. The surgical removal of warts involves freezing or burning them off, depending on their size, location, and shape. Getting rid of warts might not prevent the infection from passing to a sexual partner.
If a person does not receive treatment for genital warts, they are unlikely to turn into cancer. They will go away, grow, multiply, or stay the same.
Receiving vaccines and using condoms correctly during sex can lower the risk of HPV.
Condoms cannot provide full protection against HPV, however, because HPV infects some areas that a condom does not cover.
Though there is no treatment, three effective vaccines are available to prevent HPV. All three vaccines prevent infection by HPV types 16 and 18. These two have the strongest connection to cancer.
One of the vaccines also keeps types 6 and 11 at bay, which are most often linked to genital warts.
A vaccine can help prevent keep HPV at bay.
Doctors recommend that boys receive the three-dose HPV vaccine series at 11 to 12 years of age.
Some groups of men should have the vaccine if they did not receive all three doses during childhood, including:
- any males aged 21 years
- men aged 26 years who have sex with men
- men aged 26 years who have a weakened immune system or HIV
Since HPV vaccination started in the U.S., the number of women between the ages of 14 and 19 years with one of the four main HPV types has dropped from 11.5 percent to 4.3 percent. In females between the ages of 20 and 24 years, the figure has dropped from 18.5 to 12.1 percent.
The HPV vaccine is safe and effective. Studies have reported no serious side effects. The vaccine does not prevent other STIs or treat people with existing HPV infections or HPV-related diseases.
Living with HPV
HPV normally resolves without treatment within 2 years.
In fact, 90 percent of HPV infections will improve with the help of the immune system and without causing any harm.
Viruses are difficult to actively treat. Developing immunity might take months or even years. A person could potentially have HPV for many years before receiving a diagnosis or experiencing complications.
If a person has genital warts, they should avoid sexual contact until they treat the condition.
The period during which genital warts can transmit after removal is unknown. Wearing a barrier contraceptive, such as a condom, can help prevent further spread.
Although HPV is common and most sexually active adults will have HPV at some point in their lifetime, HPV-related cancers and health problems are less common overall.