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HPV in men

HPV, and the genital warts it can cause, are among the most common types of sexually transmitted infections, especially in young adults.

Because HPV can lead to cervical cancer, the NHS focusses on HPV prevention in women by offering HPV vaccinations to girls at school.

However, the HPV virus in men can cause health problems, too.

HPV infection can increase a man's risk of getting genital cancers, although these cancers are not common. HPV can also cause genital warts in men, just as in women.

The highest rates of new cases are in 20-24 year old men and 16-19 year old women. Genital warts are found on or around the penis, anus or vagina.

Risks of HPV infection in men

Some of the 30 or so types of HPV associated with genital cancers can lead to cancer of the anus or penis in men. Both of these cancer types are rare, especially in men with a healthy immune system. Cancer Research UK says there are around 1,100 cases of anal cancer diagnosed in the UK each year and just over 500 new cases of penile cancer diagnosed in the UK each year.

The risk of anal cancer is greater in those men, and women, who have receptive anal intercourse. Those who have HIV (human immunodeficiency virus) are also at higher risk of getting this cancer.

Some types of HPV are linked to oral cancers affecting the tonsils, tongue and back of the throat, called the pharynx. This type of HPV is usually transmitted during oral sex.

The symptoms of HPV in men

The types of high-risk HPV that can cause cancer rarely present any symptoms in men or in women. Genital warts are the first symptom you may see with low-risk HPV strains that cause warts but do not cause cancer.

Tests for HPV infection in men

To diagnose genital warts in men, the doctor will visually check a man's genital area to see if warts are present. Sometimes normal skin is mistakenly identified as a wart.

Men at an increased risk of HPV include men who have anal sex with men. In these cases, an anal smear test may be offered because of the risk of developing anal HPV and anal cancer.

Anal smears are not routine tests and may need to be requested from a GP or sexual health clinic.

Treatments for HPV infection in men

There is no treatment for HPV infection in men when no symptoms are present. Instead, doctors treat the health problems that are caused by the HPV virus.

When genital warts appear, a variety of treatments can be used. The patient can apply prescription creams at home, or a doctor can freeze or surgically remove the warts.

Anal cancer can be treated with radiotherapy, chemotherapy and surgery. The specific treatments depend on the stage of cancer - how big the tumour is and how far the cancer has spread.

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