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HPV in Men and Women – Learn More about the ‘Silent Killer’

The Human papillomavirus, which is generally referred to as HPV, is a commonly occurring sexually transmitted disease in the U.S. An individual who is sexually active may contract this infection at some point.

HPV affects the moist membranes and skin that lines the body. It is basically a group of more than 100 viruses, and different types of HPV affect different areas of the body.

HPV has several different types and some of these may lead to health problems such as cancers and genital warts, cervical and cancer of anus, penis, vagina, or vulva. The infection may also lead to oropharyngeal cancer. The oropharynx is basically the middle portion of the throat behind the mouth. It comprises the base of the tongue, the soft palate, and the tonsils.

HPV types 6 and even 11 are responsible for more than 90% of genitals warts in not just men but women too. HPV types 16, as well as 18, generally cause HPV-related cancers.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, more than 80 million Americans currently have HPV and nearly 14 million people in the U.S. get infected with this virus each year. Furthermore, there are no tests that can help diagnose the ‘HPV status’ in an individual. However, there are still some HPV related tests that can detect cervical cancer and these tests are recommended only for women who are 30 years and older.

HPV In Men

More than half of the sexually active men in the U.S are likely to contract HPV at some point in life. However, the body clears the virus on its own without creating any health issues. Around 30 percent of HPV types cause cancer which is generally related to penis or anus. The other types of the virus end up causing genital warts. The HPV virus types that cause cancer are usually asymptomatic.  However, the most commonly occurring symptom for the other HPV type’s strains is warts around the genitals.

Presently, there are no particular tests available for men that helps determine high-risk HPV types that cause cancer. However, some physicians may ask for anal Pap tests for bisexual and gay men. This is because these men are at a higher risk of anal cancer due to HPV. The doctors gather cells from the anus for an anal Pap test and send them to the lab to find if there are any abnormalities.

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In the year 2009, a vaccine for HPV named Gardasil was approved for men. It works well for men aged between 9 and 26 to prevent genital warts caused by two HPV types. Gardasil has also been approved for the prevention of anal cancer since 2010.

HPV in Women

As it is with men, doctors suggest a Pap test for women aged between 21 and 29, as they are at a higher risk of catching HPV. The tests help determine if there are any abnormalities on the cervix. For women aged between 30 and 65, doctors also suggest an HPV screening with Pap test every 5 years.

In women, HPV does not affect the reproductive system. However, it may cause complications such as genital warts that grow and bleed, and cause abnormalities in the cervical cell. If a pregnant woman contracts HPV, she may have to opt for Cesarean section as genital warts may block the birth canal. Though it is quite rare, a mother with HPV may pass on the infection to her newborn during delivery.

HPV vaccines are available for women aged between 9 to 26. They are recommended to get three different HPV vaccine doses by the age of 12, and those between 13 to 26 can get themselves vaccinated if they missed or did not get any dose while they were young. HPV vaccines are not recommended for pregnant women.

HPV Symptoms in Men

Human papillomavirus is the most common STI and the main cause is genital warts. Men usually show specific symptoms once they catch the virus.

Most men who get affected by HPV do not show any prominent symptoms, some develop warts or growths. These may show up on the:

  • Anus
  • Penis
  • Testicles
  • Tongue and top of the mouth
  • Thighs and groin

Genital warts can be flat or raised, small or large, or cauliflower-shaped. They may show up as a bump or group of bumps in areas surrounding the anus, penis, or genitals. These warts do not hurt but can be unsightly.

Remember the fact, HPV is not cancer but this infection causes changes in the body which may lead to cancer.

A physician may not be able to diagnose cancer for years after an individual has HPV because the changes in the cells HPV infects build up gradually.

The most prominent symptoms of HPV-related anal cancer include:

  • Itching, pain, discharge, bleeding from the anus
  • Swelled lymph nodes in the groin or anal area
  • Changes in the shape of stools or bowel habits
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Penile cancer can lead to:

  • Chancres in the tissues on the penis, such as skin thickening, color, or tissue buildup
  • Painless or painful growth or sores on the penis that may bleed

Throat cancer may show symptoms like:

  • Ear pain or constant sore throat
  • Persistent cough
  • Rapid weight loss
  • Trouble swallowing or breathing
  • Hoarseness or voice changes
  • Growths or lumps in the neck

Researchers have not yet found a way to differentiate temporary HPV from the one that could further grow into cancer.

Are HPV Symptoms Different In Men And Women?

Most people suffering from HPV infection do not show any symptoms unless they have warts. This goes for both men and women.

Presently, there are no approved HPV tests for men. However, a woman perhaps is able to determine that she has contracted HPV infection if she gets an abnormal Pap Test result during a scheduled cervical cancer screening.

Moreover, the HPV DNA test can be useful in detecting certain HPV types in a woman’s cervical cells.

HPV Causes

HPV contracts via intimate and direct contact, including sexual contact, for both women and men. The virus transmits from one infected person to the other through vaginal, anal, or oral sex. It may also pass on if the skin touches the skin of the infected person.

If an individual has HPV, they can transmit the virus, even if they do not have any visible symptoms. The chances of an individual catching HPV increases due to several different factors:

  • A sexual history of having multiple partners
  • Age group – as the infection occurs in young adults
  • Damaged skin
  • Being uncircumcised

It is vital for an individual to consult a doctor if any growth or warts show up on the genitals, or if warts cause any pain or discomfort.

HPV Treatment

There have been no treatments available for HPV to date. However, disease management can help prevent HPV-related symptoms and conditions effectively.

No testing source is currently available that can help diagnose HPV infection in both men and women. Nevertheless, a doctor perhaps is able to diagnose HPV by examining the abnormal growths or warts that have appeared. If an individual has several risk factors, the physician may also swab the anal area for HPV.

A doctor may treat genital warts with oral medication or may consider surgical removal. The surgical process involves burning or freezing off warts, depending on their location, size, and shape. This technique is called cryotherapy.

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Getting rid of genital warts may not prevent the infection from transmitting to another person. If an infected individual does not get proper treatment for genital warts, they may turn into cancer. More likely, they will grow, go away, multiply, or stay the same.

If HPV turns into its common forms of cancer, an oncologist must be consulted. They will treat the condition with a combination of surgery, radiation, and chemotherapy.

Is It Possible To Prevent HPV Infection?

Getting yourself vaccinated and using condoms properly during sexual activity can reduce the risk of catching the HPV infection. Condoms do not provide complete protection against HPV as HPV infects some areas that condoms do not cover well.

No specific treatment is available to-date. However, three extremely effective vaccines can help prevent HPV infection. The vaccination can help prevent an individual from contracting HPV types 16 and 18. These two types have the strongest connection to building cancer.

Other vaccines are useful in keeping types 6 and 11 at bay, which are usually linked to the growth of genital warts.

Is It Possible To Live A Healthy Life With HPV?

CDC states that HPV infection basically resolves without treatment within two years. It has been noticed that 90% of the HPV infections clear up with a strong immune system, without causing any harm.

However, the infection is difficult to treat vigorously, and developing resistance to fight it off may take months or even years. An individual may have HPV infection for many years before being diagnosed with it.

If an individual has genital warts or abnormal growth on their genitals, they should avoid sexual contact until they get proper treatment for their condition.

The phase during which warts can multiply after removal is not known. It is imperative to wear a barrier contraceptive, which can further help prevent the spread.

HPV is common, and sexually active adults will contract HPV infection at some point in their life. However, HPV-related health issues and cancers are less common overall.