Human papilloma virus (HPV) is the most common sexually transmitted infection, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). And a certain type is becoming more prevalent in guys: A new study finds that nearly 1 in 9 men are infected with oral HPV, which is associated with several types of cancer.
For the study, which was recently published in the Annals of Internal Medicine, researchers looked at data gathered through oral rinses and penile swabs from 4,493 guys aged 18 to 69. The researchers found that high-risk oral HPV infection, specifically HPV 16, was six times more common in men than women.
Here’s the thing: HPV infections are so unbelievably common that almost everyone will carry one type of strain during their lifetime, according to the CDC. However, some strains are more sinister than others.
About 70 percent of oropharyngeal cancers, commonly known as throat cancers, are caused by HPV, according to the National Cancer Institute. More than half of cancers stemming from the middle and back of your throat are linked to HPV 16.
In most cases, your body will fight off the virus and clear it from your body in one to two years, but past research has found that men are less likely to clear the oral HPV infection than women.
Some guys are at a higher risk than others, too. Black men, plus guys who smoked more than 20 cigarettes a day, currently use marijuana, and reported 16 or more vaginal or oral sex partners in their lifetime had the greatest chances of a high-risk oral HPV infection, the researchers found.
Plus, men who had genital HPV were four times more likely to also have an oral infection compared to guys who didn’t have genital HPV, the study found. Past research solidifies this link: A study published in JAMA Oncology found that of the 45 percent of men that tested positive for genital HPV infection, 25 percent of them also carried at least one high-risk strain.
But only 11 percent of eligible men have received the HPV vaccine, while only 6 percent of adult men report completing the HPV vaccine series, the JAMA study found.
That’s a problem, since getting vaccinated is the best way to protect yourself against the cancers caused by HPV. The CDC currently recommends men receive the vaccine through the age of 21, while men who sex with men should extend that to age 26.
Non-cancerous HPV can sometimes cause warts in your mouth or throat. But often, it doesn’t usually present any symptoms until it causes more serious health issues, and currently, there’s no way of knowing if you’ll develop cancer or other health problems if you’re infected, says the CDC.
And if you have been diagnosed with HPV? There’s not much you can do to minimize your risk, Ted Teknos, M.D., chairman for the Department of Otolaryngology–Head and Neck Surgery at Ohio State University’s Wexner Medical Center, recently told Men’s Health. If your HPV does lead to cancer, the good news is that there’s a high chance you’ll be cured of it, he says.
But early detection and prevention are key. That’s why practicing safe sex is so important. Using condoms and dental dams correctly, and even limiting your amount of sexual partners, can help lower your chances of transmitting or being infected with the virus, Dr. Teknos explained.