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. With the exception of cervical cancer, HPV-related cancers are uncommon. These rare malignancies include cancers of the vulva, vagina, penis, anus and oropharynx — the back of the mouth and upper part of the throat. They usually develop in conjunction with human immunodeficiency virus (HIV), the virus that causes AIDS.

Men who have HIV and have sex with other men are at particular risk of anal, penile and throat cancers associated with persistent HPV infection.

Men can prevent the types of HPV that cause most genital warts by receiving Gardasil, which was originally approved as a cervical cancer vaccine for girls and young women. After additional studies, the Food and Drug Administration approved Gardasil for males ages 9 to 26, specifically for the prevention of genital warts. More studies are needed to determine whether Gardasil can prevent HPV-associated cancers in men.

July 20, 2012 See more Expert Answers