Vitality

HPV In Men vs. Women: What You Need To Know About Human Papillomavirus, The ‘Silent Killer’

HPV
A bottle of the Human Papillomavirus vaccination is seen at the University of Miami Miller School of Medicine in Miami on Sep. 21, 2011. Getty Images/Joe Raedle

The Human papillomavirus (HPV) is the most common sexually transmitted infection in America and almost all those who are sexually active contract it at some point.

HPV has several types and some of those may lead to health issues such as genital warts and cancers such as cervical and cancer of the vulva, vagina, penis, or anus. The infection can also cause oropharyngeal cancer. The oropharynx is the middle portion of the throat behind the mouth, and includes the base of the tongue, the tonsils and the soft palate.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, about 79 million Americans currently have HPV and some 14 million people in the U.S. are infected with the virus every year. Moreover, no test can find out the "HPV status" in a person. But, there are HPV tests that can detect cervical cancer and these tests are recommended only for women aged 30 and older.

HPV in men

Over half of sexually active men in the U.S. are likely to have HPV at some point in their life, according to WebMD, and generally the body clears the virus on its own without any health problems.

About 30 odd types of HPV cause cancers related to anus or penis and the remaining types of the virus result in genital warts. Furthermore, HPV viruses that cause cancer do not often have any symptoms. However, a common symptom for the other types of HPV strains is warts around genital area.

Currently, there is no routine test for men to determine high-risk HPV types that cause cancer. But, some doctors may ask for anal Pap tests for gay and bisexual men, who are at higher risk of anal cancer due to HPV, according to WebMD. For an anal Pap test, the doctor gathers cells from the anus and sends them to the lab to find out any abnormalities.

In 2009, HPV vaccine Gardasil was approved for males. It is approved for boys and men aged between 9 and 26 to prevent genital warts caused by two HPV types. Gardasil was also accepted for the prevention of anal cancer in 2010.

HPV in women

Like men, doctors suggest Pap tests for women — aged between 21 and 29 — at risk of HPV. The tests can determine any changes caused on the cervix. For women aged between 30 and 65, doctor may suggest an HPV test with Pap test every five years.

In women, HPV does not affect chances of getting pregnant. However, it may result into complications such as genital warts that bleed and grow, and cause changes in the cervical cell. HPV may also lead a woman to opt for Cesarean section because genital warts block the birth canal. Although rare, a woman with HPV can pass the infection to her baby.

HPV vaccines are approved for girls and women aged between 9 and 26. Girls are recommended to get three doses of the HPV vaccine by the age of 11 or 12, and those between 13 and 26 years of age can get vaccinated if they did not get any or all doses when they were young. Pregnant women are not recommended HPV vaccine.

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