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HPV in Men The Signs, Symptoms and Treatment

The emphasis in the current information about the Human Papillomavirus is on how the virus affects women, mainly because some strains of HPV can lead to cervical cancer in women. However, HPV can also be the cause of health problems for men and it is important therefore, that men understand more about this highly-prevalent infection. Education helps people to limit their risk of infection with HPV and also to reduce the spread of this contagious virus.

While genital cancers in men are not common, HPV infections can increase the risk of a man developing these types of cancer. The common and typical HPV symptom in men is the same as it is for women – genital warts, which are caused by about 30 different HPV strains.

Over 50% of all sexually-active men in the US will contract an HPV infection at some time, although in most cases they will be completely unaware that they have been infected, due to the lack of symptoms. In many cases, the man's in-built immune system will deal with the infection and clear it from the body, without him experiencing any symptoms of ill-health.

Around fourteen strains of HPV have so far been identified as being associated with genital cancers in men, mainly cancers of the penis and anus. However, both of these types of cancer are a rare occurrence, with just over 1500 men being diagnosed with penile cancer and 1900 with anal cancer in 2006, according to the American Cancer Society. There are other strains of HPV that only rarely cause cancer in men but may show the common HPV symptom of genital warts.

As with woman, HPV virus in men can occur without presenting any signs or symptoms at all. The high-risk strains that can lead to cancer are usually without any symptoms; genital warts may be the first, and often only, symptom that may present in low-risk HPV types. These warts usually appear in the moist, soft skin of the penis or the anus. When a man presents with no symptoms, diagnosis of HPV is difficult, if not impossible.

Even when genital warts are present, these can be missed or mistaken for normal skin. There has not been a routine test developed for identifying HPV in men although many medical professionals advise bisexual and gay men, who have a higher risk of anal cancer, to have regular anal Pap tests. Abnormal cells in the anus can be detected in a Pap test, in a similar way to those for women.

There is no treatment yet for the Human Papillomavirus in men, so the only line of defence is the body's immune system. Most HPV infections are dealt with by the immune system without any outside help. Making some lifestyle and dietary changes can help to strengthen the immune system to help it better deal with HPV infections. When the HPV symptom of genital warts is present, these can be removed with topical creams, freezing or surgery.

However, this treatment is only given when the warts fail to go away on their own, which is what commonly happens; treating the warts too early often means that they need to be treated again. There is currently no HPV vaccine for men, as there is for women.

HPV can lie dormant in the body for years before presenting any symptoms, making it difficult to determine when a person was first infected and from what source. This factor also affects the control of the virus because so many can be infected without having any idea they are.

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