Ask The Doctor: Testing Men for HPV

Content provided by the Faculty of the Harvard Medical School

Question:

Can men be tested for HPV?

Answer:

HPV stands for human papilloma virus, the virus that has been in the news extensively because of the recent approval of a vaccine (Gardisil from Merck) for the prevention of cervical cancer. HPV, a sexually transmitted virus, has several types, several of which have been proven to cause cancer. The vaccine covers the common types of HPV including types 6, 11, 16, and 18. HPV also can cause common warts, genital warts and other types of cancer.

A suggestion of HPV infection can be raised during clinical examination of the genitalia in both men and women, especially those with warts and in patients who provide a history of anal intercourse. Oftentimes, the physician will enhance the detection of HPV-infected tissues by applying a solution of acetic acid, which causes the abnormal skin lesions to appear whitish.

At the current time, there is no simple blood test in use clinically that can detect the presence of infection with HPV. HPV is generally diagnosed by using sophisticated tests on tissue obtained from the cervix. Investigations are underway to detect the presence or absence of HPV and the quantity and the type of HPV in tissues that may be infected with the virus, including the anus. However, the cervix is the only tissue for which there is an FDA-approved test for HPV. There is no indication for HPV testing in men on a routine basis.

Other cancers that are associated with HPV infection include cancers of the anus and surrounding tissue, female vulva and penis.

Risk for infection with HPV is generally associated with sexual activity. Following sexual activity with infected partners, the HPV virus can be detected in the skin lining the penis, the anus, the skin surrounding the anal cavity, the cervix, the vulva, and the scrotum.

Men and women with HIV are more likely to develop complications from HPV infection.

Medical Reviewer: Faculty of Harvard Medical School Last Annual Review Date: 2007-03-20T00:00:00-06:00 Copyright: © Harvard Health Publications

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