I’ve heard that sexually transmitted human papillomavirus (HPV) is linked to cervical cancer. Can HPV infection increase cancer risk in men, too?
Answer From Pritish K. Tosh, M.D.
Yes, men can develop cancer from certain strains of the virus. Men may develop HPV-associated cancer of the mouth and throat, penis, or anus.
HPV infections are common among sexually active people, and infections often cause no symptoms. The immune system usually clears HPV infections.
Most HPV infections do not cause cancer. However, an infection with a high-risk virus that persists may result in changes in cells that can lead to cancer. More than 90% of anal cancers are linked to HPV infection, and most penile cancers and mouth and throat cancers are associated with HPV infections.
In the United States, mouth and throat cancer is the most common HPV-associated cancer in men, and the rate of infection continues to increase.
HPV transmission and risk
HPV is passed by contact between sexual partners. This can include vaginal sex, anal sex, penile-oral sex, vaginal-oral sex and the use of sexual devices.
People with weakened immune systems, including HIV infection, are at increased risk of HPV-associated cancer. Men who have sex with men have a higher risk of HPV-associated anal cancer. Other risk factors are the number of past and recent sexual partners and the frequency of sexual encounters, as well as a partner’s sexual history.
The HPV vaccine was developed to prevent cervical cancer. Studies have shown that it’s also effective in preventing cancers of the anus, penis, and mouth and throat.
The vaccine also prevents infections of HPV strains that commonly cause noncancerous genital warts.
The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommends HPV vaccination for all people between the ages of 9 and 26. The vaccination is most effective in producing antibodies to HPV when given between the ages of 9 and 14.
Most children 9 to 14 years old receive two doses. People 15 to 26 years old usually receive three doses. Vaccination may be recommended for people ages 27 to 45 if they are at increased risk of HPV infection.
Other prevention strategies
The use of condoms or dental dams can lower the risk of HPV transmission, but they won’t prevent all skin-to-skin contact during sexual activity that can result in the spread of HPV.
Pritish K. Tosh, M.D.
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Sept. 21, 2022
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