HPV screening and treatment for men

Originally Published: February 5, 2010 - Last Updated / Reviewed On: July 18, 2014
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Dear Alice,

I am aware of the effects of HPV in women such as cervical cancer, but if there are no signs and symptoms how will a male know that he has HPV and how is it treated in men?

Dear Reader,

Great question! It reflects the fact that there is loads more information out there about how genital human papilloma virus (HPV) affects women than about how the virus affects men. While some strains of HPV may be asymptomatic and may disappear on their own, other strains may cause health problems for men, such as warts and cancer of the penis, anus, and oropharynx (back of the throat). Currently, there is no clinical way to "test" for HPV in men, as there is for women. The only exception is that some medical experts recommend yearly anal cancer screenings for homosexual, bisexual, and HIV-positive men as anal cancer is more common in those populations. So, if you think you've been exposed, your best bet is to keep a look out for the following possible symptoms:

  • Genital warts — raised, flat, or cauliflower-shaped growths on the anus, thighs, testicles, penis, and groin area that may appear weeks to months after contact with infected partner
  • Anal cancer — bleeding, pain, discharge, bleeding, changes in bowel movements, and swollen lymph nodes in the anal area. There also may be no symptoms at all.
  • Penile cancer — At first, there may be visible changes in the color or thickness of the penile skin. Later on, there may be sores or growths on the penis that may or may not be painless.
  • Oropharynx cancer — sore throat, ear pain, or coughing that won’t go away; trouble swallowing or breathing, weight loss, voice changes, and lump in the neck

List adapted from HPV and Men from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention

In terms of treatment, genital warts that are caused by HPV may be treated with prescription drugs or may be removed by a health care provider with surgery or freezing them off, depending on individual circumstances. Penile, anal, and oropharynx cancers are typically treated with a combination of surgery, radiation, and chemotherapy as determined by a health care provider.

To reduce the risk of transmission, consider getting the HPV vaccine, Gardasil, which is approved for use in males age nine to 26. While the vaccine does not treat HPV, it prevents infection from certain HPV strains if received prior to exposure. A health care provider can help you decide whether the vaccine is right for you. Also, using condoms correctly and consistently during sex can help reduce transmission risk. Although condoms may not always prevent transmission of the virus, (they only cover the penis and the virus may be on other parts of the genitals) they can go a long way to keeping HPV at bay.

Hope this helps!

Alice

For more information, check out these recommended resources:

Medical Services (Morningside)

Student Health Services (CUMC)

Sexual and Reproductive Health in the Go Ask Alice! archives