How HPV Is Associated With Penile Cancer

Not all penile cancers are caused by human papillomavirus (HPV). However, research suggests that more than half of penile cancers test positive for high-risk HPV DNA. This is not the same as saying that HPV has caused any cancer in which it is found. Still, it is likely to be a contributing factor in many or most of such cancers.

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Scientists have also demonstrated that there is a behavioral component to penile cancer risk. A population-based, retrospective, case-controlled study done in Denmark and reported in 2008 found an association between penile cancer and heterosexual oral sex. Oral sex is associated with HPV infection, and oral cancer is also indirectly caused by HPV.

That's another reason to suspect that HPV plays a role in penile cancer risk. It may not be a huge risk, overall. Still, it should give people additional motivation to use condoms for oral sex, particularly when they can be so much fun to put on.

Unlike at other sites, it is unclear whether HPV-related penis cancers are more invasive than non-viral cancers. Some studies have shown that these cancers may be more likely to spread to the lymph nodes. This type of invasive cancer is generally associated with worse outcomes. Other studies, however, have found the opposite result, and instead concluded that HPV-related tumors are less aggressive.

Reducing Your Risk

There are two basic ways to reduce your risk for HPV-related penis cancers. The first is to consistently practice safe sex. Using condoms for vaginal sex, anal sex, and oral sex will reduce the likelihood of you being exposed to penile HPV.

The second thing you can do is consider getting an HPV vaccine. Admittedly, this is likely to be more useful for men who have not become sexually active. However, men who have had relatively few sexual partners may also benefit from HPV vaccination. (Men who have had many partners have likely been exposed already. HPV is an extremely common STD.)

Other Risk Factors

Penis cancer is also associated with other sexual risk factors as well as men's health conditions, such as phimosis and balanitis. Smoking and HIV are additional risk factors. Penile cancer is rare in industrialized nations, but is much more common in Africa, South America, and Asia.

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