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HPV in Men: A Growing Health Concern

December 5, 2017
Published in: Cancer, Men

Man in thought

In recent years, the human papillomavirus or HPV, has become a hot topic. Vaccines to protect against the virus have gained media attention and are a topic of debate for many parents since vaccines are recommended around 11 or 12 years of age. The Centers for Disease Control (CDC) estimates that almost 80 million people are currently infected with HPV in the United States. In 2017 alone, 14 million people, including teenagers, are expected to be diagnosed with HPV.

Woman doctor shaking hands with young coupleMost of the recent HPV media coverage has focused on women since HPV can cause several types of gynecological cancers like cervical cancer. However, a significant rise in men being infected with HPV has the medical community taking notice. In fact, a recent study in the Annals of Internal Medicine reports that 1 in 9 American men is infected with an oral form of HPV. In fact, head and neck cancers related to HPV in men are now surpassing HPV related cervical cancer in women.

What is HPV?

HPV is a viral infection that enters the body through skin to skin contact, often through a cut on the skin. There are over 100 types of HPV, with genital HPV being one of the most common. Genital HPV is transmitted through sexual activity. It can be spread through vaginal, oral, and anal sex and with close skin-to-skin contact during sex.

Genital HPV is actually considered the most common sexually transmitted disease. You may be surprised to learn that nearly all sexually active people get infected with HPV at some point in their lives according to the CDC. Often, someone with HPV shows no visible signs or symptoms and has no lasting health problems. Symptoms like warts are a common sign of HPV in both men and women. However, serious health conditions like cancer can also stem from the HPV virus.

HPV and Cancer in Men

Doctor and patient talking with their hands on the tableRates of oral HPV in men are significantly higher that rates in women. In fact, 11 million men are reported to have oral HPV versus 3.2 million cases in women. Some researchers suspect that men are at greater risk for persistent HPV that doesn't resolve as quickly. Another theory is that women develop a resistance to oral HPV after being infected for the first time.

A cause for further alarm is the increased rate of oropharyngeal (throat) cancer in men that stems from HPV. Nearly 13,000 men in a 5-year time span have been diagnosed with throat cancer versus 3,100 cases in women. In total, the rate of oropharyngeal cancer has risen 300 percent in men in the last 40 years. To add to this concern, there are currently no screenings for early detection of oropharyngeal cancer.

The Best Defense

HPV is a concern for both men and women. Making healthy lifestyle choices to protect yourself is the best precaution. Your doctor is your best resource for learning about prevention and treatment of HPV.