How to Recognize HPV in Men (Human Papillomavirus)

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Genital human papillomavirus (HPV) is the most common sexually transmitted infection (STI). Most people with HPV do not even know they are infected. There are more than 40 types of HPV that affect the genital areas of both sexes. Some of these types may cause cancer, others may cause genital warts. In about 90% of cases the infection will clear up naturally over time. This article will help men recognize HPV.


  1. Know that genital HPV is exchanged via genital contact, commonly during vaginal and anal sex. You may have gone for years without having sex and still have HPV. Most people do not even know they are infected. You do not have to have intercourse to become infected. HPV is spread by skin-to-skin contact in the genital area.
  2. Understand that there are risk factors that increase your chances of becoming infected. These risks include:
    • If you are a gay or bisexual man, you are 17 times more likely to develop anal cancer as a result of HPV than heterosexual men.[1] Even so, only approximately 2,000 males in America will contract an HPV-related cancer each year, according to the CDC.[1]
    • If you have a weakened immune system, including HIV, you are more likely to develop anal cancer than other men. HIV infected men are also more likely to have severe cases of genital warts.
  3. Know what to look for. Most men who get HPV never develop any symptoms or health problems. Genital warts, however, are generally the first symptoms associated with low-risk HPV strains. Here are some signs to look for:
    • Genital warts:
      • These will appear on the groin, thighs, penis, scrotum, or anus.
      • The wart may look like a lump, be flat, or have a cauliflower-shape.
      • Warts can appear a few weeks after contact with an infected person.
      • The warts may appear singularly or in clusters.
    • To diagnose genital warts in males, doctors will usually inspect the genital area. Sometimes, doctors will apply vinegar to illuminate warts that aren't yet raised or visible.[2]
    • For gay and bisexual men who are at higher risk of anal cancer, doctors have increasingly used anal pap smears to check for abnormalities.
  4. In addition to warts, check for signs of anal and penis cancer. As noted above, HPV may lead to strains of cancer in men, and especially in gay and bisexual men. But the incidence rate per year is a sliver of 1%. Still, check for:
    • Anal cancer:
      • Bleeding, pain, or itching of the anus.
      • Discharge from the anus.
      • Swollen lymph nodes in the anal or groin area.
      • Unusual bowel movements or a change in shape of your fecal matter.
    • Penis cancer:
      • At the onset you may notice a change in color, a thickening of the skin, or an enhanced mass of tissue on the penis.
      • Later you may see a growth or sore on the penis. Most often this affliction will be painless, but it may cause pain or it may bleed.
  5. Be aware that there may be no signs or symptoms involved with anal or penile cancer. Fortunately, both these cancers are rare, especially in circumcised men and men with healthy immune systems.
  6. Self-test. Look for any abnormal conditions on your penis, scrotum, or around your anus. See your doctor immediately if you find warts, lesions, cankers, white patches, or other peculiar afflictions on your penis.
  7. Keep in mind that HPV is a common infection for both men and women. The majority of men will never have health complications from it.
    • Most men who have the HPV virus will will no longer have the virus a year or two from now.[1]
  8. There is no test for HPV for men. The only approved HPV tests on the market are for screening women, and designed for cervical cancer. They are not useful for screening for HPV-related cancers or genital warts in men.


  • Genital warts can be treated. Sometimes a visit to the doctor is all that is needed. Sometimes men will wait to see if the warts disappear on their own.
  • The HPV infections that cause warts are not the same infections that may cause cancer.
  • HPV is not the same as herpes virus.
  • You or your partner may have had HPV for many years with no signs or symptoms. HPV should never be considered a sign of infidelity in a relationship. There is no way of determining who was/is responsible for spreading the infection. 1% of sexually active men have genital warts at any given time.
  • Experts recommend anal Pap tests for gay and bisexual men. Anal cancer is more common in these populations. Those infected by HIV should have this test as well.
  • Colorectal cancer is not the same as anal cancer. Colorectal cancer is more common and is not caused by HPV.
  • The following are ways to prevent HPV:
    • The surest way to avoid HPV is to refrain from sexual activity.
    • For those who are sexually active, using a condom properly and consistently can lower the risk.
    • Maintain a mutually monogamous relationship with someone who has had few or no past sex partners.
    • Limit your number of sex partners.
    • Choose your sex partners carefully.

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Sources and Citations

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