HPV: A danger to women and men

Deborah L. Hopla, D.N.P.

HPV (human papillomavirus) is a virus that affects both men and women. Annually there are six million new cases of genital HPV. Side effects of this virus include cancer and genital warts.  In fact, it is estimated that every minute in the United States, there is a new case of genital warts. The most common areas of the body affected are: the vulvar, cervical, vaginal, penile, and anal areas. Recently, increased rates of oropharyngeal cancers have also been related to HPV.

There is an overall annual average of 33,369 HPV-associated cancer cases. The breakdown for women was noted to be less than 21,000 and less than 12,000 for me. Still, men have a higher incident of oropharyngeal cancer than women due to exposure to the HPV virus with a reported 6.5-8.18/100,000 rate. Men are also more likely to have penile cancer if exposed.
Additionally, anal cancer rates for men, because of this exposure, are 1.20-3.61/100,000 (CDC, 2012).

Race is also a risk factor. Both black men and women have higher rates of oropharyngeal cancer than whites. Hispanic and black women have higher rates of cervical cancer than whites.

Most HPV infections will clear on their own but persistent infection or reinfection can progress to pre-cancers or cancers. Both men and women can reduce exposure risk with condom use, limited sexual partners and getting the vaccine in a three dose regimen. It has been estimated that 26,000 people could have had complications of HPV disease eliminated just by getting vaccinated.

So far, immunization rates for the HPV vaccine in South Carolina have been low. One of the problems has been getting the word out that this vaccine is for women AND men. The recent media blitz of “One Less” addressed cervical cancer prevention in women but did not address the cancer risk to men. HPV occurs in women and men and effects can be devastating.