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    It Turns Out Almost Half Of Men Might Have Genital HPV

    So, there's that...

    In a terrifying new study, researchers found that nearly half of adult men have genital HPV infections.


    The study, published yesterday in JAMA Oncology, was the first population-based study of genital HPV infections in adult American men.

    They looked at a nationally representative sample of 1,868 men aged 18-59 as part of the National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey, which is conducted by the National Center for Health statistics of the CDC.

    The men were tested for genital HPV infections in mobile examination centers between 2013-2014 using self-collected penile swabs. The researchers also collected personal information like race/ethnicity, education level, sexual history, and HPV vaccination rates. (They don't appear to have controlled for sexual orientation, so that's one thing to keep in mind.)

    Overall, 45.2% of men had genital HPV infections, and 25.1% had at least one high-risk HPV subtype (the kinds that could potentially lead to cancer).

    Dr_microbe / Getty Images

    FYI: There are several types of HPV, or human papillomavirus, some of which can cause genital warts and others that can lead to cancer. Research suggests that HPV infections typically clear in men between 6-18 months. But some may persist and lead to certain cancers.

    But, good news, there's an HPV vaccine that protects against nine types of HPV, including high-risk subtypes. You can find out more about that here.

    But — hold on — there's an HPV test for men?!


    Well, there is, but it's not available to just anyone. The test used in this study was similar to the HPV DNA test that's approved for women, and it even told them which subtype the men had.

    But routine HPV testing is not currently approved or recommended for men by the CDC. Corresponding study author Dr. Jasmine Han, chief of gynecologic oncology at the Womack Army Medical Center, told BuzzFeed Health that this might be because, unlike our well-known cervical cancer prevention strategies, there is currently no prevention strategy for men when it comes to oropharyngeal (throat) cancer or other cancers associated with HPV infection in men.

    Basically we would be telling men they have HPV without any next steps to offer them. Instead, experts suggest men get vaccinated against HPV and visit their doctors if they notice any new symptoms or lesions.

    Unfortunately, among all men in the study who were eligible for the HPV vaccine, just 10.7% of them had actually been vaccinated.


    Per the CDC, the vaccine is recommended for all kids aged 11-12. It's also recommended for:

    • All women through age 26

    • All men through age 21

    • All men who have sex with men through age 26

    • All men with immunocompromising conditions (including HIV) through age 26

    • All transgender people through age 26

    HPV was actually less common in younger men, probably because they (and/or their partners) had been vaccinated.

    The lowest prevalence of HPV infection was in men aged 18-22 at 28.9%. This age group was also the most likely to have been vaccinated, with 22% receiving at least one dose and 48.1% completing the full series.

    Interestingly, the rate of HPV went up in older men: 46.5% of men aged 23-27 were infected, and infection rates remained high in older men. This is the opposite of what we see in women, where HPV is less common the older you are. So it's possible that this research might lead to a change in vaccine recommendations for men over age 26, says Han.

    So how scared should we be that SO MANY MEN are walking around with HPV infections?


    Well, let's just say that if you have a male partner, it's best to just assume that they ~could~ have HPV. If you haven't been vaccinated yet, go ahead and get vaccinated. And if you have a cervix, make sure you're staying on top of your regular cervical cancer screenings.

    Han says there's more research to be done to determine why genital HPV infections are so common in men — particularly older men — and what that means for cancer screening in men. It could be because the antibody response to HPV in women's bodies is higher than it is in men's bodies, says Han, which may mean more persistent HPV infections in men.

    According to the CDC, the average annual number of male throat cancers has surpassed the average annual number of female cervical cancers. And the CDC also estimates that 72% of male throat cancers are caused by HPV, while 91% of cervical cancers are caused by it. So clearly a cancer prevention strategy for men is much needed.