Dear Dr Mitchell,
I had unprotected sex with my female partner seven and half months back. It was our first unprotected sexual encounter. Several weeks later, my partner observed genital warts. I did not have any symptoms. Is there a chance that I have HPV? Is there a HPV test for men? Does my partner have a chance of getting cervical cancer? What is the chance of transmitting the disease, if I have it, to others?
Genital warts are caused by the human papillomavirus (HPV) which is sexually transmitted. The subtypes of HPV 6 and 11 account for over 90 per cent of genital warts. These are low risk HPV subtypes which tend not to be associated with cervical cancer. HPV types 16, 18, 31, 33, 45, 52 and 58 are the main subtypes associated with cancer of the cervix, oropharyngeal (throat) and anal cancer. Subtypes 16, 18, 31 and 45 account for over 80 per cent of cases of cervical cancer. However, once you have one subtype it is likely that you will have one of the high-risk HPV subtypes and you are at risk for cervical, penile, throat and anal cancer.
It is quite possible that you have the HPV infection. Men tend not to show signs of the virus but they do transmit it to their sexual contacts. Men also tend to clear the virus a lot faster than women.
You can get a urethral swab done or get a detailed examination of the genital area to look for changes caused by the human papillomavirus
Your partner could have had the virus before and did not contract it from you. It is quite possible to have the virus in your system for several years and not show any signs of it. Most healthy individuals with a good immune system would clear themselves of the virus within 18 months of contracting it. When the high-risk HPV types stay in the body for a long time, it increases your risk of cancer.
The fact that you have unprotected sexual activity with this partner does put you at risk for contracting the virus. You should consider getting vaccinated with one of the HPV vaccines available to reduce your risk of contracting a high-risk subtype and subsequently cancer of the penis, throat or anal cancer. This will also reduce the chances of you passing on the virus to your partner, thus decreasing the risk of cervical cancer. Your current partner should consult her gynaecologist to have the warts treated, and do a Pap smear and possible colposcopy to determine if the cervix is also affected by genital warts. She will also benefit from vaccination to protect her from the high-risk subtypes that cause cervical cancer. The warts can be burnt off or treated with local application or imiquimod (Aldara) cream.
Consult your doctor who will advise you further. Best regards.
Sharmaine Mitchell is an obstetrician and gynaecologist. Send questions via e-mail to firstname.lastname@example.org; write to All Woman, 40-42 1/2 Beechwood Ave, Kingston 5; or fax to 876-968-2025. All responses are published. Dr Mitchell cannot provide personal responses.
The contents of this article are for informational purposes only, and must not be relied upon as an alternative to medical advice or treatment from your own doctor.