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Human papillomavirus (HPV) is a common sexually transmitted disease that is notorious for increasing the likelihood of cervical cancer and other complications in women. Most men who come into contact with the virus never develop symptoms, though it is possible for males to experience some potentially serious health problems. For example, HPV in males can cause outbreaks of genital warts that may be passed on to partners during sexual activity. In addition, some strains of HPV in males can lead to cancer of the penis, anus, or throat. Early detection and treatment are essential, so it is important for sexually active men to get tested periodically and be able to recognize the symptoms of HPV when they are present.
Most healthy adult males do not experience symptoms when they are exposed to HPV. Individuals who have compromised immune systems because of HIV, cancer treatments, or other factors are at a higher risk of developing active HPV infections. The risk increases greatly if such men have unprotected sex with multiple partners.
Genital warts is the most common effect of HPV in males, and the first outbreak can appear anywhere from two weeks to several months after coming into contact with an infected person. Warts typically appear on or around the penis and scrotum, though they can also grow near the anus. A person may have a single wart or multiple lesions during an outbreak. Warts are typically raised, redder than surrounding skin, and soft to the touch. It is uncommon for HPV-related genital warts to cause pain or discomfort.
HPV in males can also raise their risk of developing cancer. Since the HPV strains that cause cancer are unrelated to the ones that cause genital warts, an individual is unlikely to develop both problems. The penis is the most likely area for cancer symptoms to begin. Penile cancer may be characterized by a palpable lump or an open, bleeding sore. If the problem goes untreated, a man might begin to experience chronic, constant pain and tenderness.
Anal cancer also is a possible effect of HPV in males who engage in anal sex with other men. When symptoms are present, they may include unusual bleeding from the anus, pain during intercourse and bowel movements, and an insatiable itching sensation. As cancer begins to spread, the lymph nodes in the groin region may swell and become tender. In addition to penile and anal cancer, some men develop throat tumors that may cause significant swallowing, speaking, and breathing problems in the later stages.
There is no cure for HPV, but most cases of genital warts can be managed effectively with medications or surgery. Cancerous conditions may require a combination of surgery, radiation, and chemotherapy to combat malignancies and reduce the chances of the cancer spreading to other parts of the body. Patients who are diagnosed with HPV-related health problems are strongly encouraged to inform their past partners in hopes of detecting other HPV infections before they cause major symptoms.