Last Modified: January 14, 2008
Dear OncoLink "Ask The Experts,"
I recently entered into a relationship with a woman; we have not had intercourse yet. She told me that she has Human Papilloma Virus (HPV). I have heard of it, but never researched it. I would like as much information about it as I can get. I understand that I can contract it and there is no cure.
Christina S. Chu, MD, Assistant Professor of the Division of Gynecologic Oncology at the University of Pennsylvania Health System, responds:
According to the American Cancer Society, about 50-75% of the people who have ever had sex will have HPV at some time in their life. HPV can be transmitted through sexual intercourse, but also through other forms of genital and oral-genital contact. Condoms can protect against transmission to some extent, but they only provide protection for the areas that are directly covered by the condom.
Most men who are already infected don't even know it and never have symptoms, and there is no approved test to check for HPV in men. Having said that, about 1% of sexually active men in the USA have genital warts, which are caused by certain types of the HPV virus. There is no treatment for HPV infection, and most HPV infections go away by themselves (because the immune system fights it off). Visible symptoms of infection, such as warts, may also go away by themselves, or be removed by medication, freezing, or surgical excision.
Certain strains of HPV have been linked to penile and anal cancers in men, but these are rare, and usually occur in men with compromised immune systems (like men infected with HIV). Penile cancers are especially rare in circumcised men.
It is important to know that men most often unknowingly transmit the virus to their female partners, and cervical pre-cancer (dysplasia) and cervical cancer (caused by HPV ) are a much more common problem for women than penile/anal cancer is for men.