The human papillomavirus (HPV) is a sexually transmitted infection that can cause genital warts and various types of cancer in both men and women. There are more than 150 types of HPV, and many of them do not cause any symptoms.
There is no routine screening test for HPV in men, but men can be tested for HPV if they have symptoms such as genital warts. Men can also be vaccinated against HPV to help prevent infection. The HPV vaccine is most effective when given to people before they become sexually active, as HPV is primarily spread through sexual activity. HPV vaccination is recommended for all boys and girls starting at age 11 or 12.
Men don't require routine HPV testing, but the virus can be detected in men through certain symptoms or a pap test. Men can also reduce their risk of HPV infection by getting the HPV vaccine.
What Is HPV?
HPV stands for human papillomavirus, which describes a collection of closely related viruses that cause warts to appear on or around the genitals. Most HPV infections go away on their own within two years without causing any major health problems, but there are a handful of HPV viruses that lead to cancer over time if they're not treated correctly, especially cervical cancer – that’s why there are annual campaigns aimed at promoting the HPV vaccine, which prevents strains that are most likely to cause cancer from catching on.
It's important to note that HPV is an overwhelmingly common virus and most people who are infected don't even know it because they are asymptomatic. While the marketing humdrum surrounding HPV vaccinations primarily target women, men can get HPV all the same.
What are the Symptoms Of HPV in men?
If you have HPV, you may not know it. The virus is most often symptom-free, so most men don't experience any signs or symptoms of infection. But in some cases, men do develop a lesion (a wart or open sore) at the site of their infection.
These are largely flat or slightly raised bumps on the skin that can be flesh-colored, white, pink or black; they sometimes have an indentation in them and may bleed if broken. The warts are usually painless to touch, but they may well be tender if exposed to friction by being repeatedly bumped or rubbed against clothing.
How Is HPV Transmitted?
HPV is a sexually transmitted infection (specifically, the most common STI out there) and is thus primarily transmitted through direct sexual contact, so it’s usually sex with someone who has an HPV infection that puts you at risk of developing an HPV-related condition. It’s worth noting that though condoms decrease the chance of infection, they are by no means a surefire countermeasure.
The good news is that this means that you don’t really contract HPV from someone just because they have a cold, or even by sharing towels or utensils. There are some strain that can spread through non-sexual contact, but even those still require intimate skin-to-skin contact.
Can Men Get Tested For HPV?
Men can absolutely get tested for HPV and are explicitly encouraged to both for their own health and that of anyone they may recently have been intimate with. Testing generally takes places in one of three possible locations:
One, at a sexual health clinic – these clinics offer free and confidential sexual health services. You don't need to book an appointment in advance; just turn up on the day of your choice and say that you want to be tested for HPV. They'll have you submit the necessary samples and send them off to be tested (either at their own lab or anywhere else they may use).
Second, at a family planning clinic – these are mostly run by local councils, so they're usually cheaper than private clinics but can take longer to get an appointment as there's usually more demand from patients there than at private practices.
Third, through a general practitioner – your GP can order a test for you to take at local diagnostic laboratory spaces like LabCorp or Quest Diagnostics.
How To Prevent HPV
There’s no cure for HPV and the virus can stay in your body for many years, so it’s important to take steps to prevent it from happening in the first place. According to The National Cancer Institute, the best way to prevent HPV is by avoiding sexual contact with an infected partner – but if you want to be sexually active, there are also other ways you can protect yourself.
The measure that likely immediately comes to mind is probably the consistent use of condoms during sex. These can definitely reduce your risk of HPV, but as mentioned above, they’re also not a guarantee, so if you are sexually active and at high risk for STDs or HIV (such as if you have a new sexual partner or rotate through multiple partners), talk with your doctor about the most effective measure you can take: Vaccination.
The HPV vaccine is available through schools and public health services and helps prevent infection with some types of cancer-causing strains (specifically, HPV 16/18). The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommend that all boys and girls between the ages of 11 and 12 receive doses as part of their routine vaccination schedule.
When You Should See a Doctor
Unfortunately, no measure is perfect, so you should be mindful to keep an eye open for any symptoms when getting involved with new sexual partners. If you notice any changes to your skin, it's important to visit a doctor. This can include marks that are red, raised or scaly. These could be initial signs of genital warts and should be checked out as soon as possible.
Pay special attention to anything unusual in your genitals or around them – particularly if there is pain or discomfort when using the bathroom – and make an appointment with a qualified medical professional the moment you do.
This blog post is for educational purposes only and does not constitute medical or other professional advice. Your specific circumstances should be discussed with a healthcare provider. All statements of opinion represent the writers' judgement at the time of publication and are subject to change. Phoenix and its affiliates provide no express or implied endorsements of third parties or their advice, opinions, information, products, or services.