HPV in men
Reviewed by our clinical team
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.
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 in some cases can cause cell changes that 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. It can also be passed on through intimate touching and sharing sex toys.
What are the symptoms of HPV in men?
Most strains of HPV don't cause any symptoms or problems.
However, some strains 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.
Other high-risk strains of HPV may cause cell changes that can lead to cancer, which is why it’s important to keep an eye out for any worrying new symptoms (see our answer to “Can men get tested for HPV?” below).
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.
If you do notice new symptoms – including genital warts – make sure you see your GP to get checked.
For more information on symptoms to look out for, read this article: Male cancers associated with 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 can be treated with:
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.
How can men lower their risk of getting HPV?
If you’re sexually active and sleeping with new and casual partners, you might risk getting exposed to high risk or "warts" HPV. The best way to stay protected is to get the HPV vaccine, as this offers protection against the most prevalent high-risk strains, as well as genital warts.
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
Can men get the HPV vaccine?
The HPV vaccine is available for free on the NHS to the following groups:
- Girls and boys aged 12 or 13 in school
- Women and men under the age of 25 who missed the opportunity to get the vaccine in school
- Men who have sex with men aged 45 or under
- Trans men and trans women aged 45 or under who have a similar level of risk to MSM
If you’re not eligible for a free vaccine on the NHS you can have yours done privately.
Considering the HPV vaccine? Request yours through 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 store.