HPV in men
- What is HPV?
- Can men get HPV?
- Causes of HPV in men
- Symptoms of HPV in men
- Genital warts
- Can HPV in men turn into cancer?
- Symptoms of anal cancer
- Symptoms of penile cancer
- Symptoms of throat cancer
- Can men get tested for HPV?
- How to lower the risk of HPV in men
- Is there a treatment for HPV in men?
- Genital warts treatment
- Treatment for HPV-related cancers
- Can men get the HPV vaccine?
- How to get the HPV vaccine with Online Doctor
Reviewed by our clinical team
You’ve probably heard of the human papillomavirus (HPV) and how it can cause cervical cancer, but what you might not know is that the virus affects men as well as women. For men, just like women, it can lead to genital warts, but it can also cause cancers that affect men, like penile and anal cancer.
In this article we’ll look at the impact of HPV on men and how men can protect themselves from HPV.
What is HPV?
HPV is a really common virus, thought to affect most people at some point in their life.
Although we tend to talk about it in the singular, there are actually over 100 different types of HPV and they can affect the body in different ways. In general, though, the HPV virus is passed on through skin-to-skin contact, infecting the skin or of the body where there’s a moist membrane e.g. the mouth, throat, vagina, anus.
The good news is that most strains of HPV are harmless and will be cleared by your body within a couple of years without causing any symptoms or health complications. In fact, you probably won’t know you’ve had HPV at all.
However, a small number of strains known as “high-risk HPV” can cause cancer in some people. Other “low-risk” types can cause warts on the genitals, or the hands and feet.
To combat the spread of HPV and its related health complications, the NHS runs a free HPV vaccination service for certain groups. The same vaccine is also available privately.
Can men get HPV?
Lots of people associate HPV with cervical cancer, which is why there’s a common misconception that the virus can only affect women. However, HPV can cause health complications for men too, and can cause abnormal cell changes that can sometimes turn into cancer (not all cell changes due to HPV will lead to cancer).
If you’re a man, an infection with HPV can carry the following risks:
- Genital warts
- Cancers of the throat and neck
- Penile cancer
- Anal cancer
You can catch the HPV strains that cause genital warts or the high risk strains associated with cancer through vaginal sex, anal sex or oral sex. This virus is passed on through direct skin-to-skin contact with someone who has HPV on their skin. It can also be passed on through intimate touching and sharing sex toys.
Causes of HPV in men
The cause of a HPV infection is the human papillomavirus. HPV is a virus that can be passed between anyone who has close skin-to-skin contact with someone who has HPV. As mentioned, this is usually through sexual contact, as HPV tends to affect the moist membranes, like the mouth, throat, anus and vagina.
Most men who have HPV won’t even know they have it, as it’s usually symptomless and harmless. It’s just in some cases that it can lead to genital warts and/or cell changes that can cause cancer.
Symptoms of HPV in men
Most strains of HPV don't cause any symptoms or problems.
Some strains of HPV can cause genital warts, small fleshy growths which in men can appear around the upper thighs, on the penis, on the scrotum, or on or around the anus. You might only have small, single warts, or you might have lots of warts in a cluster. They shouldn’t be painful, if they are very large they might itch or bleed.
Can HPV in men turn into cancer?
Certain high-risk strains of HPV can cause cell changes that can lead to cancer, which is why it’s important to keep an eye out for any new symptoms. The symptoms of HPV-related cancer in men will be the same as if the cancer has been caused something else.
Symptoms of anal cancer
- Bleeding from the bottom
- Itching and pain around the bottom
- Mucus coming out the bottom
- Needing to poo often
- Looser, runnier poos
- Small lumps around and inside the bottom
Symptoms of penile cancer
- Growth or sore that doesn’t go away within four weeks
- A rash or bleeding from the penis or under the foreskin
- Smelly discharge
- Discolouring/different colour of the penis/foreskin
- Changing thickness of the penis/foreskin
Symptoms of throat cancer
Throat cancer is really a catch-all term for cancers that start in and around the throat. These could be cancer of the pharynx (the passage that makes sure food goes in one way, and air comes in and out of another), or cancers of the head and neck (voice box, mouth, food pipe etc).
Some symptoms of these types of cancer include:
- Sore ear or throat
- Lump in the neck
- Trouble swallowing / feeling like you have something stick in your throat
- Change to your voice
- Unexplained weight loss
- Shortness of breath
Can men get tested for HPV?
There’s no routine test or screening programme to check for high-risk HPV in men.
Instead, men are advised to keep an eye out for any changes to the genitals, or any symptoms affecting that area, or the mouth and throat. This includes lumps, rashes, discharge and pain.
f you do notice any growths, skin changes, lumps, or sores in these areas, we would recommend getting in contact with a medical professional as soon as possible to have them checked out. You could also use our GP photo assessment service.
How to lower the risk of HPV in men
If you’re sexually active and sleeping with new and casual partners, you might risk getting exposed to high risk HPV. The best way to stay protected is to get the HPV vaccine, Gardasil 9, as this offers protection against the most prevalent high-risk strains, and the majority of cases of genital warts.
Gardasil 9 protects against 9 types of HPV: 6, 11, 16, 18, 31, 33, 45, 52 and 58. Between them, these strains of HPV cause the most cases of cervical cancer, as well as most anal cancers, some genital cancer, head and neck cancers.
Other than getting vaccinated, it’s always advised that you practise safe sex when you’re having sex with a new or casual partner:
- Always use condoms for vaginal and anal sex
- Use condoms and dental dams for oral sex
- Avoid sharing sex toys
It's worth bearing in mind that because HPV can be transmitted by skin-to-skin contact, condoms are not 100% effective in preventing the spread of HPV.
Is there a treatment for HPV in men?
There’s no treatment for HPV in men or women, but there are treatments available for the health complications it can cause.
Genital warts treatment
Treatment for HPV-related cancers
Cancers caused by HPV can be treated in a variety of ways, depending on where the cancer is, and how advanced symptoms are. Radiotherapy, chemotherapy and surgery are all options, but in general treatment will be more successful if the cancer is diagnosed early.
Can men get the HPV vaccine?
HPV vaccinations are generally not available free of charge from the NHS unless you're:
- Offered one in school as part of the UK national immunisation programmes (girls and boys aged 12 or 13)
- Aged 24 years or younger and missed your vaccination at school when you were invited as part of the UK’s Schools’ based programme
- A man who has sex with other men and are up to 45 years of age
How to get the HPV vaccine with Online Doctor
We run a vaccination service through our secure online clinic. Click here to order your vaccinations – once the order has been approved by one of our in-house doctors, you can arrange a time to receive your injections in your nearest LloydsPharmacy.