Genital human papillomavirus, also known as HPV, is the most common sexually transmitted infection in the United States for both men and women. Nearly all sexually active people get HPV at some point in their lives, reported WomensHealth.gov. While there are cases of HPV in men and women, there are some differences between both sexes.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reports that HPV is spread through anal, vaginal and oral sex, or through other close skin-to-skin touching during sexual activity.
What are the differences in HPV in men and women?
Most men infected with HPV never develop symptoms, and it goes away on its own. However, if HPV doesn’t go away, it can cause genital warts or some types of cancer.
The penis or anus is where genital warts usually appear. They can be single or groups of cauliflower-shaped bumps that are large, small, flat or raised. The warts may go away, remain the same, or grow in number or size. Unfortunately, genital warts can return, even after treatment.
HPV-related cancers are uncommon in men. However HPV infection can cause penile, anal and oropharyngeal cancer. Cancer develops very slowly and diagnosis may not happen for years or decades after the initial infection by HPV, the CDC says.
Currently, no HPV test has been approved for men. Nor does the CDC recommend routine HPV screening unless symptoms appear for anal, penile or throat cancer.
“About 80 of women will get HPV at some point,” WomensHealth.gov reports. Many do not know they have it, because — as with men — symptoms are rare and HPV usually disappears on its own. When it doesn’t, women run the risk of developing genital warts and certain types of cancer.
Genital warts can form anywhere on the body, including inside or outside the vagina or anus, the cervix, thighs, lips, tongue, throat and hands, GenitalHerpesTreatment.co says. Symptoms include “increased vaginal discharge, vaginal bleeding during sex, itching, and wetness near any warts near the genitals.”
HPV that doesn’t go away can cause cervical, vulva, vagina, anal or oropharyngeal cancers, as well as recurrent respiratory papillomatosis, when genital warts grow in the respiratory tract.
Most women under 30 don’t need the HPV test, because within two years, their immune system fights off HPV. For those 30 and older, negative results on both the Pap and HPV test means there've been no changes, and no HPV has been found on the cervix. This translates to very low chances of developing cervical cancer in the next few years.
However, here’s the rub. You can have a normal Pap result, and still have HPV. Changes on your cervix might not immediately show up or never even appear.
Having HPV doesn’t affect getting or staying pregnant, but may cause problems during pregnancy. Any previous genital warts or ones developed during pregnancy, may bleed or grow in number and size.
A cesarean section delivery may be in order if genital warts block the birth canal. Very rarely, genital HPV can be passed onto the baby.
HPV may have no cure, but there are treatments for both men and women when it comes to genital warts and HPV-caused health problems.
"HPV and Men - Fact Sheet." Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 2015. Web. 11 Jan. 2016.
"EPublications." Human Papillomavirus. Web. 11 Jan. 2016.
"Difference Between Genital Herpes & Genital Warts." Herpes Treatment RSS. Web. 11 Jan. 2016.
"What Women with a Positive HPV Result Should Know." Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. U.S. Department of Health & Human Services. Web.
Reviewed January 12, 2016
by Michele Blacksberg RN
Edited by Jody Smith