Did you know that Genital Human Papillomavirus (HPV) is the most common sexually transmitted infection and that most sexually active people in the United States will have HPV at some time in their lives?
There are more than 40 types of HPV that are passed on through sexual contact and these types can infect the genital areas of men, including the skin on and around the penis or anus. They can also infect the mouth and throat. In addition, most cervical cancers in women are caused by HPV
HPV is passed on through skin to skin contact — most often during vaginal and anal sex. HPV may also be passed on during oral sex. Since HPV usually causes no symptoms, most men and women can get HPV — and pass it on — without realizing it. People can have HPV even if years have passed since they last had sex and even men or women with only one lifetime sex partner can get HPV.
Most men who get HPV (of any type) never develop any symptoms or health problems. But some types of HPV can cause genital warts. Other types can cause cancers of the penis, anus, or oropharynx (back of the throat, including base of the tongue and tonsils.)
The above said, some men are more likely to develop HPV- associated health problems than others:
- Gay and bisexual men (who have sex with other men) are about 17 times more likely to develop anal cancer than men who only have sex with women.
- Men with weakened immune systems, including those who have HIV, are more likely than other men to develop anal cancer.
- Men with HIV are also more likely to get severe cases of genital warts that are harder to treat.
Currently, there is no screening test to detect HPV infection in men, and there is no "cure" for HPV infection, either. One can reduce his chances of becoming infected by using condoms with each sexual encounter; however, HPV can infect areas that are not covered with a condom, making the condom ineffective in reducing the spread of HPV.
The best way to prevent HPV infection is to receive the HPV vaccine (Gardasil), which helps protect against the types of HPV that most commonly cause problems in men. The vaccine is given in three doses over a six-month period. It works by preventing four common HPV types, two that cause most genital warts and two that cause cancers, including anal cancer. It protects against new HPV infections, but it does not cure existing HPV infections or disease (like genital warts).
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommends the HPV vaccine for all boys ages 11 or 12. The vaccine is most effective when given in the pre-teen years, before the onset of sexual activity. However, males who did not receive the vaccine at age 11 or 12 can receive it up to age 21.
It is also recommended for gay and bisexual men (or any man who has sex with men), and men with compromised immune systems (including HIV) through age 26, if they did not get fully vaccinated when they were younger.
The vaccine has been available since 2006, with nearly 60 million doses administered in the United States alone. Years of extensive testing and monitoring indicates that the vaccine is both safe and effective. Side effects are similar to other vaccines including redness, pain, and swelling at the site of the injection.
If you have not received the HPV vaccine, ask your doctor about receiving it.
Most insurance plans will cover the cost. If you do not have health insurance or coverage for immunizations, please visit the local health department in your county to receive the vaccine for a reduced fee.