Most of the time HPV infections completely go away and don’t cause any health problems. However, if an infection does not go away on its own, it is possible to develop HPV symptoms months or years after getting infected. This makes it hard to know exactly when you became infected. Lasting HPV infection can cause genital warts or certain kinds of cancer. It is not known why some people develop health problems from HPV and others do not.
Most men who get HPV may never develop any symptoms or health problems. But some types of HPV can cause genital warts. Other types can cause cancers of the penis, anus, or oropharynx (back of the throat, including base of the tongue and tonsils.) The types of HPV that can cause genital warts are not the same as the types that can cause cancer.
The HPV infection isn’t cancer but can cause changes in the body that lead to cancer. HPV infections usually go away by themselves but having an HPV infection can cause certain kinds of cancer to develop. These include cervical cancer in women, penile cancer in men, and anal cancer in both women and men. HPV can also cause cancer in the back of the throat, including the base of the tongue and tonsils (called oropharyngeal cancer). All of these cancers are caused by HPV infections that did not go away. Cancer develops very slowly and may not be diagnosed until years, or even decades, after a person initially gets infected with HPV.
Currently, there is no way to know who will have only a temporary HPV infection, and who will develop cancer after getting HPV. Although HPV is the most common sexually transmitted infection, HPV-related cancers are not common in men. Certain men are more likely to develop HPV-related cancers:
- Men with weak immune systems (including those with HIV) who get infected with HPV are more likely to develop HPV-related health problems.
- Men who receive anal sex are more likely to get anal HPV and develop anal cancer.