I've heard that sexually transmitted human papillomavirus (HPV) is linked to cervical cancer in women. Can HPV infection increase cancer risk in men, too?
Answer From Pritish K. Tosh, M.D.
Yes, but the specific risks are different for men. HPV infection is very common, but it usually doesn't cause any signs or symptoms in either sex. Some types of HPV cause genital warts, however.
Often, the body's immune system eliminates the virus without treatment within about two years. But until the virus is gone, you can spread it to your sex partners.
Certain types of HPV, known as high-risk types, may cause persistent infection. These infections are the ones that can gradually turn into cancer. HPV can cause cancers of the vulva, vagina, cervix, penis, anus, and the back of the mouth and upper part of the throat (oropharynx).
Men who have HIV — the virus that causes AIDS — and men who have sex with other men have a higher risk of anal, penile and throat cancers associated with persistent HPV infection. Oropharyngeal cancers have 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. The HPV vaccines were originally approved by the Food and Drug Administration as cervical cancer vaccines for girls and young women, and they're now approved for the prevention of anal, vulvar and vaginal cancers, too.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommends routine HPV vaccination for girls and boys ages 11 and 12, although it can be given as early as age 9. The vaccines have also been recommended for adolescents and men and women through age 26. Vaccinations have also been approved for men through age 45. The best time to get the vaccines is before sexual activity begins. Although these vaccines are not yet approved for preventing HPV-related penile and oropharyngeal cancer, recent studies suggest that the 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, though you can still get an HPV infection in areas left exposed by the condom. So condom use isn't considered a substitute for HPV vaccination in those eligible for the vaccines.
Pritish K. Tosh, M.D.
Aug. 21, 2020
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