High-Risk HPV: Cancer of Penis

By Roslyn A Douglas, MA, Founder of Central Health-Grenada

In recent months there was a huge campaign in Grenada to raise the awareness of cervical cancer among women, however the commonest cause of this disease, high-risk Human Papilloma Virus (HPV), can also cause cancer of the penis. Due to this fact, men need to be aware that they too are at risk of developing cancer from this sexually transmitted infection.

Dr Francis Martin, who holds the position of Senior Medical Officer and Director of Primary Health Care within the Ministry of Health wants residents of Grenada, Carriacou and Petite Martinique to start taking this health concern seriously, “HPV is a very serious infection. It is very common. It is the main culprit for sexually transmitted infections and for cervical cancer. And not just cervical cancer, but we have seen men with cancer of the penis as a result of HPV. I personally have managed men with cancers of the penis as a result of HPV. So again, the implications are far-reaching and the population should take serious note of it and its consequences it can have on our population.”

hpv men

The American Cancer Association (ACA) states on their website that high-risk HPV strains numbers 16, 18 and 31 have been linked to cancer of the penis, vagina, vulva, and cervix. Low-risk HPV strains numbers 6 and 11 cause the growth of warts on the genitalia of both men and women. Their website went on to say that, “In most people, the body is able to clear the infection on its own. In some, however, the infection does not go away and becomes chronic. Chronic infection, especially with high-risk HPV types, can eventually cause certain cancers, including penile cancer. Men who are not circumcised are more likely to get and stay infected with HPV.”

Statistically, women are diagnosed with reproductive cancers at higher rates than men, and according to Dr Amy Baldwin, Associate Professor at St George’s University School of Medicine in the Department of Microbiology, this adds to the misconception that men have nothing to worry about when it comes to HPV, “A lot of misconceptions going around about any number of viruses especially things that are sexually transmitted, but one main [misconception] is that men seem like they really don’t have to worry about much with sexually transmitted infections. And this goes to the very realistic fact that women get the crappy end of the deal on a number of things in life and one of those is the brunt of sexually transmitted infections. And so you have men having a less number of cancers that will result, less number of symptoms et cetera, and so there becomes a misconception that it’s not a problem for them. Or maybe even they think that they don’t even get infected with the virus and there is a lot of danger in that because it is a sexually transmitted infection. [Men] in fact do get infected and then they transmit the infection to others when they have sex, and so also they may think nothing with happen.”

If abnormal cells on a man’s penis are found early it can often be treated and/or removed with minimal damage. However, according to the ACA because some men avoid going to the doctor for abnormalities on their penis over time things can get worse, “If a cancer is found early, it can often be removed with little or no damage to the penis. If it is not diagnosed until later, part of or all of the penis may need to be removed to treat the cancer. It is also more likely to require other, more invasive treatments, and may even be life threatening.”

All sexually active men, especially uncircumcised men, should see their doctor immediately if they notice any of the following things on their penises, whether or not pain is involved: any abnormality, blisters, sores, ulcers, and/or white patches.

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