Genital Warts in Men
Genital warts are a sexually transmitted disease that causes soft, moist, pink or flesh-colored growths in the genital areas. Genital warts are caused by the human papillomavirus (HPV), a common virus.
There are more than 40 types of HPV that are passed on through sexual contact. These types can infect the genital areas of men, including the skin on and around the penis or anus. They can also infect the mouth and throat. Most sexually active people in the United States will become infected with at least one type of HPV virus at some time in their lives.
How do men get HPV?
HPV is passed on through sexual contact during vaginal, anal, and oral sex. Since HPV usually causes no symptoms, most men and women can get HPV and pass it on without realizing it.
People can have HPV even if years have passed since they had sex. Even men with only one lifetime sex partner can get HPV.
What health problems does HPV cause for men?
Most men who get HPV (of any type) never develop symptoms or health problems. But some types of HPV can cause genital warts. Other types can cause penile, anal, or head and neck cancers.
The types of HPV that can cause genital warts are not the same as those that can cause cancer.
What are the symptoms of genital warts and HPV in men?
In men, symptoms of HPV infection include genital warts, which generally appear on the head or shaft of the penis, and sometimes on the scrotum or around the anus.
These are some of the signs and symptoms of genital warts:
- One or more growths on the penis, testicles, groin, thighs, or anus.
- Warts may be raised, flat, or cauliflower-shaped. They usually do not hurt.
- Warts may appear within weeks or months after sexual contact with an infected person.
HPV rarely causes severe health problems in men.
How are HPV and genital warts diagnosed in men?
There is no test for men to check one’s overall HPV status.
Doctors often do a physical examination to diagnose genital warts. In some cases, during the exam, the appearance of genital warts in any sexually exposed area will prompt some doctors to diagnose HPV without futher testing. Some physicians may confirm the diagnosis by doing a biopsy (collecting a tissue sample from the wart) and sending it to a to a lab for analysis.
Men who think they might have genital warts can check for abnormalities on the penis, scrotum, or around the anus. See your doctor if you find warts, blisters, sores, ulcers, white patches, or other abnormal areas on your penis—even if they do not hurt.
Is there a treatment or cure for genital warts?
There is no treatment or cure for HPV. But there are ways to treat the genital warts caused by HPV in men.
Genital warts can be treated with medicine, removed (surgery), or frozen off. Some of these treatments involve a visit to the doctor. Others can be done at home by the patient himself. No one treatment is better than another. But warts often come back within a few months after treatment—so several treatments may be needed.
Treating genital warts may not necessarily lower a man’s chances of passing HPV on to his sex partner. Because of this, some men choose not to treat genital warts. If not treated, genital warts may go away on their own, stay the same, or grow (in size or number). They will not turn into cancer or threaten your health.
How can men lower their chances of getting HPV and genital warts?
Monogamy and abstinence
Both men and women can lower their chances of getting HPV by being in a faithful relationship with one partner, limiting their number of sex partners, and choosing a partner who has had no or few prior sex partners. But even people with only one lifetime sex partner can get HPV. And it may not be possible to determine if a partner who has been sexually active in the past is currently infected. That's why the only sure way to prevent HPV is to avoid all sexual activity.
Safe sex practices
If it isn't practical to avoid sexual activity while genital warts are contagious, men can prevent the spread of genital warts by using the same safe-sex practices required to prevent the spread of any sexually transmitted disease. And while condom use is recommended until all warts have been successfully treated, male condoms do not provide total protection, since a mans scrotum can harbor the wart virus.
There is a safe and effective HPV vaccine available to protect males against the HPV types that cause most (90%) of genital warts. The vaccine is available for boys and men, ages 9 through 26 years. It is given in three shots over six months.
The HPV vaccine does not cure existing HPV infections or genital warts. It is most effective when given before first sexual contact (i.e., before the person may be exposed to HPV).
The HPV vaccine is very safe and effective, with no serious side effects. The most common side effect is soreness in the arm.