I'm aware of the connection between sexually transmitted human papillomavirus (HPV) and cervical cancer. Does HPV infection increase cancer risk in men, too?
Answers from James M. Steckelberg, M.D.
The short answer is yes, but the specific risks are different for men. Most of the time, HPV infection doesn't cause any signs or symptoms in either sex, although some types of HPV cause genital warts.
Typically, the immune system eliminates the virus without treatment within about two years. Until the virus is gone, you can spread it to your sex partners.
But certain types of HPV, known as high-risk types, may cause persistent infection, which can gradually turn into cancer. Malignancies that can be caused by HPV include cancers of the vulva, vagina, penis, anus and oropharynx — the back of the mouth and upper part of the throat.
Men who have HIV — the virus that causes AIDS — and men who have sex with other men are at particular risk of anal, penile and throat cancers associated with persistent HPV infection. The rate of oropharyngeal cancers has been on the rise recently, especially in men.
Men can prevent the types of HPV that cause most genital warts and anal cancer by receiving an HPV vaccine. These were originally approved as a cervical cancer vaccine for girls and young women, and they're now approved by the Food and Drug Administration for the prevention of anal, vulvar and vaginal cancers, too.
The vaccines are recommended for males ages 9 to 26. The best time to get the vaccine is before sexual activity begins. Although these vaccines are not yet approved for preventing HPV-related penile and oropharyngeal cancer, recent studies suggest that these vaccines may be effective for preventing these cancers as well.
You may also lower your risk of contracting HPV by using a condom every time you have sex. However, condom use isn't considered a substitute for HPV vaccination in those who are eligible for the vaccine.
June 05, 2015
- HPV and cancer. American Cancer Society. http://www.cancer.org/cancer/cancercauses/othercarcinogens/infectiousagents/hpv/hpv-and-cancer-info. Accessed May 14, 2015.
- HPV and men — CDC fact sheet. U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. http://www.cdc.gov/std/hpv/stdfact-hpv-and-men.htm. Accessed May 14, 2015.
- HPV and cancer. National Cancer Institute. http://www.cancer.gov/cancertopics/causes-prevention/risk/infectious-agents/hpv-fact-sheet. Accessed May 14, 2015.
- Bogaards JA, et al. Direct benefit of vaccinating boys along with girls against oncogenic human papillomavirus: Bayesian evidence synthesis. BMJ. 2015;350:1.
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