In recent months, the common virus known as human papillomavirus (HPV) has been frequently featured in the news. While the focus has been mainly on vaccination for women, men, too, need to become educated about this virus and about the vaccine that safeguards against it. Avoiding genital warts and other HPV-related issues is part and parcel of good penis health, so read on and learn.
What is HPV?
HPV is one of the most common viruses; the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) says that most unvaccinated sexually active adults will contract HPV at some point in their lives.
Isn’t HPV just a woman thing?
A lot of HPV education centers on women, largely because there’s an association between HPV and cervical cancer. But men are equally likely to get HPV.
What happens with HPV in men?
Sometimes, HPV comes with no symptoms; however, men with HPV often end up with genital warts. As a matter of fact, the CDC estimates that at any time, 1% of sexually active men are experiencing genital warts.
The warts themselves are more of a nuisance than a health problem. They can appear on or around the penis, testicles, groin area, thighs or anus. Their shape and size vary, and while they do not cause pain, they can be very off-putting.
Men with genital warts have an obligation to let any sexual partners know about them. They should also practice protected sex (with a condom); however, HPV may be present even when no warts are visible, and it may be passed on through contact with areas not covered by the condom.
Genital warts can be removed through a variety of methods, but they tend to recur; it may take several removal sessions to be rid of them.
Is there a cancer risk with HPV?
Cancers of the penis, anus and throat have an association with HPV, but instances of HPV causing these cancers are rare. They also are not caused by the same type of HPV that causes genital warts. Still, it’s a good idea for a man to monitor his penis and groin area for any signs of abnormalities and report them to a doctor – just to be safe.
Only about 400 men in the U.S. develop HPV-related penis cancer in any given year; for HPV-related anal cancer, the rate is about 1500. It’s somewhat higher for throat cancer; however, most of those come about due to issues other than HPV, such as smoking.
What about the vaccine?
The good news is that there is now a vaccine (called Gardasil) that can help protect against HPV. The not-so-good news is that it is effective only in men who are 26 years of age or younger. The CDC recommends that boys receive the vaccination when they are 11 or 12 years old and that any male can receive it up through age 26. However, it is most effective when given to a male who is not yet sexually active, because once he becomes sexually active, the chances of already being infected increase significantly.
The vaccine is multi-stage, meaning it is given in three doses over a period of six months. There aren’t any serious side effects associated with the vaccine, which should be encouraging for men who are worried about adverse reactions. Men over the age of 26 shouldn’t despair about not being able to get the HPV vaccine; as mentioned before, most people with HPV do not experience any significant symptoms, and those with genital warts can be treated.