Each year over 6.2 million people are infected with HPV (human papillomavirus) and at least 50% of sexually active people in the United States will get genital HPV (some estimates are as high as 80%). HPV does not cause health problems for most people, but if health problems do develop, they can be severe.
There are many types of HPV (approximately 40 that infect genitals and the anus) that are either ‘low-risk’ HPV types or ‘high-risk’ HPV types. HPVs that fall under the ‘high-risk types’ can cause several types of cancer, including cervical cancer in women (which is where most prevention efforts have been) and up to 90% of anal cancers in men.
Although the most common health problem reported with HPV in men is genital warts, men who have sex with men are 17 times more likely to develop anal cancer than men who do not have sex with men. Cases of HPV-related anal cancer are almost double in men with weak immune systems, especially those with HIV.
There is no consensus on screening for anal cancer in men; most doctors will conduct a digital rectal exam (sticking a finger in your anus), but an anal papilloma screening (anal PAP) can detect structural changes in calls that are precursors to anal cancer. An anal Pap test is something that should be offered to all men who have sex with men.
Symptoms include bleeding, pain or lumps in the anal area. Anal itching and discharge can also be signs of anal cancer. Early symptoms of anal cancer such as blood in the stool or a feeling of pressure can easily be mistaken for hemorrhoids. If your hemorrhoids don’t get better, you need to talk to your doctor.
There is no approved HPV test for men and HPV is so common that it is difficult to avoid. It is reasonable to expect that you will get HPV at some point in your life. But HPV usually goes away on its own, without causing health problems in men.
You can minimize risks by wearing a condom (although they do not provide complete protection against HPV, since they do not cover all genital skin).
In October 2009, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) approved use of the first HPV vaccine (marketed as Gardasil®) for boys or men age 9 through 26 for the prevention of genital warts caused by human papillomavirus (HPV) types 6 (most commonly associated with anal warts) and 11 (associated with cancer).
If you do get HPV, it is natural to want to know who gave it to you, but there is no way to know for sure. The virus is very common. A person can have genital HPV for a very long time before it is detected. If you have genital HPV, don’t blame your current partner – or assume your partner is cheating. Genital HPV is not necessarily a sign that you or your partner is having sex outside of your relationship.
A new resource on your anus comes from Lifelube, a gay men’s health website and blog. The resource is a new series called “Andrew’s Anus”, which is written from the perspective of Andrew’s butt. The column covers anal health, HPV and other issues Andrew’s anus encounters. I cannot help but think a ‘first booty’ perspective is one worth exploring!