HPV is widely acknowledged to be one of the most common sexually transmitted infections (STIs) around the world; however, many people aren’t so familiar with HPV symptoms in men. Although complications from this condition are more common in women, it’s still possible for men to become infected with HPV and show symptoms.
Read on to learn more about HPV symptoms in men.
HPV symptoms in men
Many men don’t experience any HPV symptoms at all, which can make it difficult to diagnose. The most common symptom of HPV in men is the presence of warts.
According to the Cleveland Clinic, most HPV infections in men are diagnosed when the patient or a healthcare provider notices small warts during a physical examination.
Warts caused by HPV typically appear as small clusters of “bumpy” lesions. These lesions can be flat or raised, small or large, flesh-colored, or even resemble a cauliflower. Warts can maintain the same size for a long period of time, or they may grow in size or number. Possible locations for HPV warts in men include:
What is HPV?
Human papillomavirus, also known as HPV, is a group of more than 150 related viruses. More than 40 of these strains are sexually transmitted, and they can cause genital warts and different types of genital, and head and neck cancers.
According to the CDC, HPV can be spread through vaginal, oral, or anal sex, but also through close skin-to-skin contact during sex.
HPV can be spread even by people who don’t exhibit any noticeable signs of infection. HPV can also lie dormant for many years, and people can develop symptoms only months or years after becoming infected.
The strains that cause warts and cancer aren’t the same. High-risk strains for cancer include HPV-16 and HPV-18, whereas low-risk strains that are associated with genital warts include HPV-6 and HPV-11.
However, it’s possible to become infected with more than one strain at the same time, which explains why some patients develop both complications.
How common is HPV in men?
HPV is probably the most common sexually transmitted infection around the world, and it’s the most common in the United States.
The organization HPV World explains that more than 80 percent of all sexually active men and women will acquire some type of HPV before the age of 45. Fortunately, most people who get HPV will only have a transient infection before their immune system clears the virus on its own.
But even though most people are able to clear HPV infections on their own, high-risk strains of this virus still account for 4.5 percent of all cancers worldwide — 8.6 percent in women, and 0.8 percent in men, according to the International Journal of Cancer.
Although most of these cancer cases correspond to female cervical and vulvar cancers, men can develop different types of HPV-related cancer, including:
- Penile cancer
- Anal cancer
- Oropharyngeal (head and neck) cancer
Although HPV-related cancers are rare in men, certain factors could increase your risk of developing them. According to the Mayo Clinic, these risk factors include:
- Having a weakened immune system and HPV have a higher risk of developing symptoms
- Men who have sex with men, or who engage in anal sex are more likely to contract anal HPV
A study published by the Population Reference Bureau revealed that approximately half of all men aged 18 to 70 who participated in the study (which was carried out in the United States, Mexico, and Brazil) had been infected with at least one strain of HPV.
When to go to the doctor for HPV
The good news is that, according to statistics published by the American Association for Cancer Research, 69 to 81 percent of all HPV infections go away on their own after being cleared by our immune system.
However, that doesn’t mean that you should just ignore any potential symptoms of HPV. In fact, it’s a good idea to seek medical assistance whenever you notice any new symptoms concerning your sexual and reproductive health, such as warts.
It’s impossible to predict who will be able to clear an HPV infection and who will develop complications, so it’s important to get checked out by a healthcare professional. They will be able to offer different options depending on the type of HPV that you contracted, and the severity of your symptoms. Although there’s no specific treatment for HPV, you can receive treatment for any complications an uncleared infection may cause.
Additionally, if left untreated, you could spread HPV to your sexual partners, who could develop complications over time. It’s important to practice safe sex with all your sexual partners, using strategies such as:
- Using male or female condoms during vaginal and/or anal intercourse, and dental dams for oral sex
- Getting tested for STIs before having sex with a new partner
- Discussing your previous sexual history
- Asking your healthcare provider about getting the HPV vaccine
- Notifying previous partners if you are diagnosed with an STI
- Having honest talks about boundaries and consent
- Making sure that both partners are comfortable before, during, and after sex
- HPV and Men - Fact Sheet - cdc.gov
- The frequency of HPV infection worldwide - hpvworld.com
- Worldwide burden of cancer attributable to HPV by site, country and HPV type - who.int
- HPV (Human Papillomavirus) - my.clevelandclinic.org
- HPV infection: A cause of cancer in men? - mayoclinic.org
- How Many Men Have HPV? - prb.org
- Prevalence, Acquisition, and Clearance of Cervical Human Papillomavirus Infection among Women with Normal Cytology: Hawaii Human Papillomavirus Cohort Study - cancerres.aacrjournals.org