Human Papillomavirus (HPV) in men

What is HPV?

Human Papillomavirus (HPV) is a very common virus that is passed on by sexual contact. It is likely that most of us who have ever been sexually active have had HPV at some time in our life although we may not have known. HPV is not a single virus but a family of more than 100 types of HPV that affect the body. Approximately 40 types of HPV affect the genital area.

Most HPV infections go away on their own however some of the types can cause changes to cells in the cervix that can lead to cervical cancer. A few types of HPV cause genital warts that you can see but otherwise you cannot see HPV.

How is the virus spread?

Genital HPV is passed on through sexual contact including vaginal, anal, oral and non-penetrative sex.

How is HPV diagnosed?

At present there is no reliable HPV test for men. HPV can be detected in females who have had an abnormal smear test.

Is there any treatment?

There are no reliable treatments (such as antibiotics or antivirals) that have been proven to get rid of the virus. The virus disappears spontaneously in most men and women over time.

Should you practice safe sex (use condoms)?

Correct and consistent use of male or female condoms could appear to be a sensible precaution to reduce the risk of future infection. However, the virus might have been present for many years before its detection and, therefore, passed on before you start using condoms so it is difficult to give specific advice about this.

Furthermore, even with condom use there are still areas of unprotected skin so condoms may not offer full protection.

How will HPV affect your health?

Most men who have HPV (of any type) never develop any symptoms or health problems. Some types of HPV can cause genital warts. Other types can cause cancers of the penis, anus, or oropharynx (back of the throat including base of the tongue and tonsils).

However, it is more likely that HPV will go unnoticed and not cause any cancer. The cancers caused by HPV are relatively rare and there are other more significant risk factors for them including smoking.

Signs and symptoms of HPV related health problems

Genital warts

  • One or more growths on the penis, testicles, groin, thighs or in/around the anus
  • Warts may be single, grouped, raised, flat or cauliflower shaped. They are not usually painful

Anal cancer

  • Sometimes there are no signs or symptoms
  • Anal bleeding, pain, itching or discharge
  • Swollen lymph nodes in the anal or groin area
  • Changes in bowel habits or shape/colour of stool

Penile cancer

  • First signs: changes in colour, skin thickening, or a build-up of tissue on the penis
  • Later signs: a growth or sore on the penis. It is usually painless, but in some cases, the sore may be painful and bleed.

Cancers of the oropharynx

  • Sore throat or ear pain that does not go away
  • Constant coughing
  • Pain or trouble swallowing or breathing
  • Weight loss
  • Hoarseness or voice changes that last more than two weeks
  • Lump or mass in the neck

Does smoking have an effect on HPV?

Smoking has a significant impact on your immune system. Therefore, you are less likely to get rid of the virus and you are at higher risk of developing cancer (particularly oropharyngeal cancer) if you are a smoker.

Persistence and progression of HPV is more common in people who smoke.

Questions from men

Should you see a doctor or attend a sexual health clinic?

You may wish to visit your GP or sexual health clinic for further explanation. There is currently no reliable test to detect HPV in men so, unless there is evidence of genital warts, there is no examination/ test that male partners can have.

Can you be treated?

If you have no symptoms there is no treatment available. If there are symptoms such as warts you can be treated in the sexual health clinic.

How long might you and/or your partner have had HPV?

Again this is an impossible question to answer as the virus can remain in the body without harm for considerable periods of time or can be dealt with quickly by the immune system.

Sexual health appointments

To book an appointment at clinics associated with Chelsea and Westminster:

T: 020 3315 6699
W: John Hunter Clinic

To book an appointment at clinics associated with West Middlesex Hospital:

T: 020 8321 5718
W: Sexual Health Hounslow

Contact information

Chelsea and Westminster Hospital

Colposcopy Clinic
Gynaecology Outpatients
1st Floor, Lift Bank B

Opening hours: Mon–Thu, 8am–5pm

T: 020 3315 5927

West Middlesex University Hospital

Colposcopy Clinic
Women’s Day Unit
1st Floor, Queen Mary’s Building

Opening hours: Mon–Thu, 8:30am–4:30pm

T: 020 8321 5067

Liz Alden George Vasilopoulos ruby