One in three men worldwide are infected with HPV

One in three men worldwide are infected with HPV

By World Health Organization WHO

A new study has been published in The Lancet Global Health showing that almost 1 in 3 men over the age of 15 are infected with at least one genital human papillomavirus (HPV) type, and 1 in 5 are infected with one or more of what are known as high risk, or oncogenic, HPV types.

The epidemiology of human papillomavirus (HPV) in women has been well documented. Less is known about the epidemiology of HPV in men.

The study’s estimates show that men frequently harbour genital HPV infections and emphasize the importance of incorporating men in efforts to control HPV infection and reduce the incidence of HPV related disease in both men and women.

The systematic review and meta-analysis assessed the prevalence of genital HPV infection in the general male population based on studies published between 1995 and 2022. The global pooled prevalence was 31% for any HPV and 21% for high-risk HPV. HPV-16 was the most prevalent HPV genotype (5%) followed by HPV-6 (4%). HPV prevalence was high in young adults, reaching a maximum between the ages of 25 years and 29 years, and stabilized or slightly decreased thereafter.

Pooled prevalence estimates were similar for the UN Sustainable Development Goal geographical regions of Europe and Northern America, Sub-Saharan Africa, Latin America and the Caribbean, and Australia and New Zealand (Oceania). The estimates for Eastern and South-Eastern Asia were half that of the other regions.

The majority of HPV infections in men and women are asymptomatic, but they can lead to long-term sequelae and mortality. Each year, more than 340,000 women die of cervical cancer (1). In men, HPV infection tends to manifest clinically as anogenital warts, which cause significant morbidity and increase HPV transmission rates (2,3).

HPV infections are also associated with penile, anal and oropharyngeal cancers, which are commonly linked to HPV type 16 (4,5). The International Agency for Research on Cancer estimated that there were about 69,400 cases of cancer in men caused by HPV in 2018 (2).

“This global study on the prevalence of genital HPV infection among men confirms how widespread HPV infection is. HPV infection with high-risk HPV types can cause genital warts and oral, penile and anal cancer in men. We must continue to look for opportunities to prevent HPV infection and to reduce the incidence of HPV-related disease in both men and women,” said Dr Meg Doherty, Director of WHO’s Global HIV, Hepatitis and Sexually Transmitted Infections Programmes.

Key Facts HPV

  • Human papillomavirus (HPV) is the name of a group of 200 known viruses. They do not cause concerns in most people, but infection with some high-risk types is common and can cause genital warts or cancer.
  • In 90% of people, the body controls the infection by itself. Persistent HPV infection with high-risk HPV types is the cause of cervical cancer and is associated with cancers of the vulva, vagina, mouth/throat, penis and anus.
  • HPV infection causes about 5% of all cancers worldwide, with an estimated 625,600 women and 69,400 men getting an HPV-related cancer each year.
  • Women living with HIV are 6 times more likely to develop cervical cancer compared to women without HIV.
  • Prophylactic vaccination against HPV can prevent these cancers. In addition, HPV-screening and treatment of pre-cancer lesions is an effective way to prevent cervical cancer.

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