Sunday, October 27, 2013

It's Not Just Genital Warts

Many people question whether Human papillomavirus (HPV) in men is actually something worth worrying about, but HPV isn't just the cervical cancer virus.

HPV affects men as well, causing throat cancer, anal cancer and penile cancer as well as genital warts. Although it is hard to find testing for HPV in men, HPV in men is a real problem ... and not just because male HPV is a reservoir for HPV infection in women.

How common is HPV in men?

One 2008 study, published in the Journal of Infectious Diseases, found that over the course of 15 months, more than half of the studied group of 290 sexually active young men spent at least some time infected with HPV. This is why it's so important to change the question from "can men contract HPV?" to "how does the human papillomavirus affect men?"

Interestingly, it's not that men are getting infected and staying infected. HPV is probably so common, at least in part, because men are getting new infections all the time.

The same study discussed above found that most men who were infected with HPV cleared the virus within six months of becoming infected — in other words, HPV was no longer detectable in their bodies. In fact, three quarters of men showed no trace of the virus after one year, and this was true whether the men were infected with cancer-causing (oncogenic) strains or non-oncogenic strains.

This is in contrast to previous studies, which found that women tend to stay infected with cancer-causing strains of HPV for longer periods of time. Women have also been shown to be more susceptible to oncogenic HPV than non-oncogenic HPV, something that, again, does not appear to be the case for men.

Even though men are good at kicking the HPV virus out of their bodies, it does not mean that HPV in men is not a real problem. In addition to the issue of genital warts, it is important to remember that men are susceptible to HPV-related cancers, even if they are less common than cervical cancer in women.

Hopefully, increased awareness of the problem of HPV in men will eventually lead to the development of a commercial test, and encourage men to get the HPV vaccine now that it has been approved for their use.

It is possible that such approval may happen sooner rather than later, since results of a new study suggest that the vaccine reduces the amount of symptomatic HPV disease as well as the number and length of infections in men.


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