It’s the most common sexually transmitted disease. HPV, or the human papilloma virus, causes genital warts – and some types of the virus increase the risk of cervical cancer in women. Because of the cervical cancer link, much of the focus has been on women and HPV – but men get it too. According to a recent study published in the esteemed medical journal Lancet, up to half of all men are infected with the HPV virus.
HPV in Men: An Underappreciated Problem
When researchers tested 1,100 men from the United States, Brazil and Mexico for HPV every 6 months for 2 years, they found a full 50% of them were infected with one of the more than 40 types of HPV infection. Men with this virus may have few symptoms, and many aren’t even aware they have it. Despite the lack of symptoms, they can still easily transmit the infection through sexual contact.
According to the Center for Disease Control, around 20 million Americans are already infected with the HCV virus and another 6 million contract the virus every year. Not only does the HPV virus cause genital warts, it’s linked to cervical cancer in women, and other types of cancer in both men and women including cancer of the vagina, penis, vulva, anus and, rarely, cancers of the head and neck.
HPV and Men: Should Men be Vaccinated?
The Center for Disease Control recommends that girls between the ages of 11 and 12 get the Gardasil vaccine to protect against HPV genital warts – and they recently approved the vaccine for men and boys between the ages of 9 and 26. Some experts believe all boys should get this vaccine before they become sexually active to stop the spread of this easily transmitted virus. This may reduce the incidence of HPV-related cervical cancer in women and protect men against cancer of the penis and anus related to HPV.
HPV in Men: The Bottom Line?
HPV in men is surprisingly common, and infected men can be completely symptom-free and still transmit the virus to their sexual partner. The best way to prevent the spread of HPV is by being monogamous, but not all men or women have only one sexual partner over a lifetime, which is why the HPV vaccine is something to consider for both males and females.
ABC News. “Not for Women Only: HPV Affects Half of Adult Men, Study Shows”
Center for Disease Control. “Human Papillomavirus”
Medscape.com. “Update From HIM on Male HPV Infection and Clearance”
Written by Kristie.Leong.M.D
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