What is HPV?
HPV stands for human papilloma virus. This is a group of viruses.There are over 100 types of HPV which can affect humans. Some types of HPV are known as genital HPV as they affect the genital area. Genital HPV is a very common sexually transmitted infection which usually causes no symptoms and goes away by itself, but can sometimes cause serious illness.
HPV is responsible for:
- almost all cases of genital warts
- 90% of anal cancers
- 35% of penile cancers
- 60% of oropharyngeal cancers (cancers of the back of the throat, including the base of the tongue and tonsils).
- In women HPV is responsible for most cervical cancers, 65% of vaginal cancers and 50% of vulva cancers
How do Men get HPV?
HPV is passed on through genital contact—most often during vaginal and anal sex. HPV may also be passed on during oral sex. Since HPV usually causes no symptoms, most men and women can get HPV without realizing it. People can have HPV even if years have passed since they had sex. Even men with only one lifetime sex partner can get HPV
Four out of five people have at least one type of HPV at some time in their lives. HPV infects both men and women. The virus is spread through intimate contact with genital-skin during sexual activity. Usually this happens without anyone ever knowing it or it causing any problems.
HPV and cancer
There are many different HPV types, which are considered either 'low-risk' or 'high-risk'. Some high-risk HPV types can cause serious illness including cancer. Sometimes HPV does not clear the body naturally . This is called 'persistent' HPV infection. Persistent HPV infection can cause abnormal cells to develop and is known to cause cancers affecting men and women, including penile, anal and mouth/throat cancers.
HPV and genital warts
Having genital warts does not mean you are at risk of cancer. Genital warts are caused by low-risk types of HPV, which do not cause cancer. Genital warts are a very common sexually transmitted infection in Australia, especially in young people. Genital warts can be treated by doctors or at sexual health clinics.
Is there a test for HPV?
HPV tests are available in Australia for a few HPV types, but are only subsidised by the government in a very limited number of situations so can be expensive. Because most HPV infections usually resolve naturally, and there is no cure, there is little reason to have an HPV test.
There is currently no treatment for HPV. In most cases the immune system clears HPV from the body naturally over time and has no long-lasting effects. Most people with HPV have no symptoms and will never know they have it.
Some men are more likely to develop HPV-related diseases than others
Gay and bisexual men, and men who have sex with other men are about 17 times more likely to develop anal cancer than men who only have sex with women.
Men with weakened immune systems, including those who have HIV, are more likely than other men to develop anal cancer. Men with HIV are also more likely to get severe cases of genital warts that are harder to treat.
Are there ways to lower my chances of getting HPV?
- A safe and effective HPV vaccine (Gardasil) can protect boys and men against the HPV types that cause most genital warts and anal cancers. It is given in three doses over six months. The vaccine is given to boys and girls as part of the school based national vaccination program. Men can access the vaccine at cost through their GP.
- Condoms (if used with every sex act, from start to finish) may lower your chances of passing HPV to a partner or developing HPV-related diseases. But HPV can infect areas that are not covered by a condom—so condoms may not fully protect against HPV.
- Because HPV is so common and usually invisible, the only sure way to prevent it is not to have sexual contact. Even people with only one lifetime sex partner can get HPV, if their partner was infected with HPV.