HPV Infects Both Men and Women, but Men Are Not Tested For This STD

January 07, 2019
by John Kelly, MD
HPV Infects Both Men and Women, but Men Are Not Tested For This STD

Many people have heard of the sexually transmitted disease – HPV or human papillomavirus – which both men and women can be vaccinated for. However, for now, detection is only possible in women, not men. Why is that, if it’s a sexually transmitted disease? That’s a good question, and to understand the reasoning for it, you have to first understanding the particulars that comprise of HPV.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said one in four people (80 million people) are infected with HPV, making it the most common STD infection there is. 14 million new people are infected with the STD every year. Though condoms can reduce the rate of transmission, there is no foolproof protection against it.

What makes this STD different is that you don’t even need to have sex to get it. According to a 2015 stud in the Sexual Health journal, HPV is transmitted in many other ways like from hands that have touched genitals. The research discovered HPV was in the genital tract of more than 50 percent of virgins. Still, HPV does spread from sexual intercourse – be it anal or vaginal. It is possible to get it from oral sex as well.

A person with HPV may not even know they have the disease, showing no symptoms such as genital warts. You could have it for years before symptoms rear their ugly heads. This means you can’t know for sure who you caught it from and you don’t know who you gave it to.

Simply put, the number of people with HPV could be much, much higher than being reported.

Although HPV is common, it’s still a misunderstood disease and carries a major stigma. The problem with HPV is that it affects both men and women, leading to anal and cervical cancers. If that’s the case, one has to wonder why men are not tested for HPV, spreading it to women without them even knowing they have it.

Various Types of HPV

There are literally dozens of HPV strains, with more than half of the 100+ strains being transmitted through sexual contact. Medical experts believe all sexually active adults will contract some form of HPV in their life. For the majority of people, the body can fight against the virus and get rid of it without causing further harm.

Based on information from the Foundation of Women’s Cancer, the average HPV infection is anywhere from four to 20 months and can clear up on its own in two years’ time.

There are two groups of HPV – low and high risk. Low-risk HPV causes the anal or genital warts; high-risk HPV causes the cancers. Considering the CDC says the majority of cervical cancer is the result of HPV, not testing men for HPV puts women’s health at risk.

What Are The Complications of HPV?

With so many kinds of HPV, the chances of being diagnosed with anal, cervical or oral cancer are increasing. Men who have HPV could have genital warts, but it could also lead to cancer of the anus, penis or throat. The HPV that causes cancer does not have any outward symptoms like warts but may have other symptoms like itching, pain, anal bleeding, discharge, etc.

The symptoms of penile cancer may include an unusual growth on the penis, color changes, thickening of the skin, etc. A person with constant ear pain or sore throats could have cancer of their oropharynx.

A study on 18 to 69-year-olds found that oral HPV is on the rise for American men, which can also cause neck and head cancer. Oral HPV is the result of oral sex with an infected person and affects the throat and mouth. Oral HPV is far more common in men than in women – 11 million men have it while just 3.2 million have oral HPV.

Health experts said there is no current test for oral HPV and no way to stop its transmission even when a condom or dental dam is used.

Again, why not HPV for men is available baffles people. After all, it’s clear that men can get the disease too and suffer its consequences. Why is there no test for it?

What Experts Have To Say About It

With no official HPV test for men is available, it means detecting it isn’t easy either. Doctors find HPV in women during a pap smear. However, men do not undergo any kind of regular genital exam, and there isn’t an approved HPV exam for men either. Men who have HPV show no outward symptoms, and it’s not easy to detect them on their genitals.

Anatomy may be the reason there is no HPV test for men. For instance, the tissue of the penis and anus are much tougher than the tissue in the cervix. The cervix can be swabbed in a Pap test, but this is not the situation for an anus or penis. Of course, anal Pap smear testing can be done on men who have anal sex on a regular basis or who fall into the high-risk category.

Still, some experts believe that an HPV test for men does exist – a biopsy of the patient’s genital, anal or oral regions that is then sent off to pathology for examination to confirm an HPV infection. If positive for an infection, then the kind of HPV can be made.

Further research is being carried out to ensure HPV male testing is accessible for more men. For example, Johns Hopkins researchers have come up with blood and saliva tests that can help predict relapses of HPV-related oral cancer, which is also being used to diagnose people with HPV oral infections.


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