Genital Warts and HPV in Men

Male patient and doctor in discussion in exam room

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In This Article

Genital warts, also known as condylomata acuminata, are small, fleshy growths that can result from an infection by the human papillomavirus (HPV). It is one of the most common sexually transmitted infections. There are many strains of HPV that can infect the genitalia, mouth, and throats of men and women.

Causes of Genital Warts

Genital warts are caused by human papillomavirus. There are more than 100 types of HPV that can affect the genital areas, mouth, or throat.  One-third of these are spread through sexual contact.

HPV is one of the most common sexually transmitted diseases. According to the Department of Health and Human Services, there are an estimated 5.5 million new cases of HPV in the US each year. At least 24 million Americans are infected.

What They Look Like

Genital warts are small, pinkish-white, cauliflower-shaped growths. Men infected with HPV do not get warts as often as women do. When they do, warts usually appear on the tip of the penis but may also appear on the shaft. Warts can also appear on the scrotum or around the anus (warts may spread to the area around the anus even without anal sex as a cause). Sometimes genital warts can be seen around and inside the mouth and in the throat of those who have had oral sex with an infected person.

Can You Have HPV But Not Genital Warts?

Yes. Studies have indicated that it is not uncommon for women to have HPV and show no symptoms. Just because you do not have obvious symptoms does not mean you cannot infect others. Once you become infected, it can take up to three months for genital warts to appear.

Diagnosis

Not all warts are obvious to the naked eye. A doctor or health worker may apply a weak vinegar-like solution that causes any warts to turn white. An internal examination of the anus may be carried out to check for hidden warts.

If you believe you have been in contact with HPV, even if you do not have any warts, see a doctor who will be able to advise you on treatment.

Treatment

Unfortunately, like most viruses, there is no treatment that will get rid of the HPV virus itself. But in most cases, HPV goes away on its own and does not cause any health problems. 

There are HPV vaccines that are approved for boys and girls ages 9 to 26 that can help prevent infection. 

Genital warts can be treated, but they may reappear at a later stage. Treatment for genital warts depends on size and location. Treatment options include:

  • Imiquimod, an immune response cream applied to the infected area
  • 20% podophyllin anti-mitotic solution applied to the infected area and washed off later
  • 0.5% podofilox solution applied to the infected area
  • 5% 5-fluorouracil cream
  • Trichloroacetic acid (TCA)

The treatments should not be painful, but if they are, consult your doctor or health advisor. If your partner is pregnant, the podophyllin or 5-fluorouracil treatments should not be used.

Small warts can be surgically treated by laser, cryosurgery (freezing them off) or electrocautery (burning them off).

The anti-viral drug alpha-interferon can also be used either systemically or locally (injected directly into the warts). However, the drug is very expensive and research studies investigating effectiveness have yielded mixed results. You may require more than one type of treatment to make the warts go away permanently.

Prevention

There are HPV vaccines that are approved for males and females ages 9 to 45 that can help prevent infection. By age 26 and after, most people have already come into contact with the HPV virus, and so the vaccine is not useful.

Avoiding all direct contact with the virus can prevent infection.

As previously mentioned, there is no treatment currently available for the HPV virus itself, but the virus often resolves on its own. Genital warts, a symptom of the disease, do respond to treatment, but they can reoccur. Treatment for genital warts should be sought and completed before having sexual contact.

Can Condoms Prevent Genital Wart Infection?

A condom can provide some protection as long as it covers the area affected by warts. It has also been suggested that condoms covering the affected area will help reduce the risks of cervical cancer linked to HPV.

Good hygiene is important. Keep your genitals clean and dry and do not use scented soaps and bath oils, as these may irritate warts. If your partner uses vaginal deodorants she should know that this too can be an irritant.

Possible Complications

It is estimated that 99% of cervical cancers are caused by HPV. Some types of HPV can also cause anal and penile cancer, as well as vulvar cancer.

If your partner has abnormal cervical cells detected in a PAP test, it is important that she have regular pelvic examinations and further PAP tests so that any cancer can be treated as quickly as possible. Early detection of cancer increases cure rates.

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Article Sources

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