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HPV on Penis: Symptoms, Causes, and Treatment

Kristin Hall, FNP

Medically reviewed by Kristin Hall, FNP

Written by Our Editorial Team

Last updated 1/01/2021

Human papillomavirus, or HPV, is a group of viruses that can cause warts to develop on your body, including on and around your penis.

HPV is incredibly common, with almost 80 million Americans currently infected. While there’s currently no treatment for HPV itself, treatments are available for the warts that the virus may cause to develop on and around your penis, scrotum and buttocks.

If you’ve noticed warts around your penis and think you may have HPV, it’s important to talk to your healthcare provider. 

Below, we’ve provided additional information about HPV in men, from the symptoms you may notice to the most common causes of HPV.

We’ve also listed the treatments that are currently available for genital warts caused by HPV, from topical medications to freezing, electrocautery and other wart removal procedures. 

HPV in Men: The Basics

  • HPV is a very common sexually transmitted infection. According to the CDC, nearly all sexually active people who haven’t gotten the HPV vaccine will develop HPV at some point in life.

  • HPV spreads through direct skin-to-skin contact. You might contract it if you have vaginal, oral or anal sex with an infected person, or through any skin-to-skin contact that occurs during sex. HPV can be transmitted without having any noticeable symptoms.

  • Most men who contract HPV never notice any symptoms. However, some types of HPV virus can cause genital warts. Some types of HPV infection may increase your risk of developing various cancers.

  • If you think you might have HPV, it’s important to talk to your healthcare provider. HPV is easy to diagnose -- in most cases, your healthcare provider will be able to diagnose you simply by looking at the genital warts caused by HPV.

  • While HPV itself is untreatable, medications can help to shrink and remove genital warts caused by HPV. Genital warts caused by HPV can also be removed surgically.

HPV Symptoms in Men

Most of the time, HPV doesn’t cause any symptoms. Instead, the infection gradually clears up on its own over time, often with no noticeable signs that it’s ever present.

If an HPV infection doesn’t clear up on its own, it may cause warts to gradually develop around your body. Growth and warts caused by HPV can develop on or near your:

  • Penis

  • Scrotum

  • Anus

  • Thighs

  • Groin

When HPV is transferred through oral sex, it may also cause lesions to develop in your mouth, around your tonsils and inside your throat.

Genital warts can vary in size, shape and appearance. They may develop as one wart, or as a cluster of multiple warts on a small area of skin. Most look like small bumps that are raised or flat. Some warts may have a bumpy, cauliflower-like appearance.

Not all types of HPV cause genital warts. In fact, of the more than 100 different types of HPV, only a small few are associated with genital warts.

Although HPV isn’t a form of cancer, the HPV virus has the potential to cause changes to your cells that may increase your risk of developing cancer. 

In men, HPV may lead to penile cancer, anal cancer and, in the case of oral HPV, cancer that affects the tongue, tonsils or throat. In women, HPV may lead to cancer of the cervix, vagina or vulva.

Cancer from HPV can take years or decades to develop. The types of HPV that cause cancer are not the same as the types of HPV that cause genital warts, meaning genital warts aren’t a reliable indicator that you have an elevated risk of certain cancers.

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What Causes HPV?

HPV is a sexually transmitted infection. You can contract  it by having vaginal, oral or anal sex with a person who is infected with HPV. Many infected people have no symptoms, meaning you can potentially contract HPV even if your partner doesn’t have any genital warts.

In some cases, it can take months or years for HPV symptoms to develop, making it difficult to work out when you first came into contact with the virus.

Contrary to popular belief, you don’t need to have sex with a large number of partners in order to be to risk of contracting HPV. Because HPV is so common, it’s possible to contract it even if you only ever have one sexual partner.

How to Treat Genital Warts From HPV

Although HPV isn’t treatable, the genital warts caused by certain types of HPV are. A variety of treatments are available for genital warts, including topical medications and surgical procedures to freeze, shrink or remove warts from your body. 

Medications for Genital Warts

Some genital warts will clear without the use of medication. However, medication can speed up the process, relieving issues such as pain or itching and reducing the risk of HPV spreading to other people. 

Several medications are used to treat genital warts caused by HPV:

  • Antimitotic medications. Antimitotic medications like podofilox work by inhibiting the growth of cells. Your healthcare provider may prescribe topical podofilox or a similar topical medication to apply to areas with genital warts. 

  • Imiquimod. Imiquimod is an immune response modifier. It works by strengthening your immune system, allowing you to fight against HPV more effectively. Like podofilox, it’s a topical medication that you’ll apply directly to areas with genital warts.

  • Green tea extract ointment. Ointments made using green tea extract (sinecatechins) are used to treat external warts. Your healthcare provider may recommend this type of medication if you have genital warts around your anus.

If you’re given medication to treat genital warts, make sure to use it exactly as prescribed. Take the medication for the entire amount of time it’s prescribed to you, even if you notice the genital warts shrinking or disappearing before the end of the treatment period. 

Surgical Procedures for Genital Warts

If the medications above aren’t effective, or if your healthcare provider believes your warts can be removed without the use of medication, they may suggest a surgical procedure to cut off or destroy the genital warts. 

Surgical procedures for genital warts caused by HPV include:

  • Cryotherapy. This procedure involves freezing the genital warts using liquid nitrogen, then allowing the tissue to thaw and heal. It has a high success rate, but can cause a mild amount of pain at the application site.

    Cryotherapy is usually best suited to people with a small to moderate number of warts on or around the penis and other affected areas.

  • Surgical excision. This involves cutting off warts with a scalpel. A local anesthetic is applied to the area, with a variety of methods used to safely surgically remove genital warts without damaging the surrounding tissue.

    Surgical excision is effective and can allow for multiple warts to be removed in one visit to your healthcare provider’s office, but it may cause some degree of scarring.

  • Laser treatment. This involves using a laser to heat and destroy genital warts directly, or the blood vessels that supply blood to the warts. Laser treatment for genital warts is effective but, like surgical excision, may cause scarring.

  • Electrocautery. This involves destroying the genital warts using a low-voltage electric current.

In addition to surgical procedures, some healthcare providers may inject medication directly into genital warts caused by HPV. Medications such as interferon, which stops virus and cell growth, may be helpful for treating genital warts when other medications aren’t effective. 

Although many surgical procedures for genital warts produce an immediate improvement, some may require multiple treatments. Your healthcare provider will let you know if you need to return for a second or third treatment in order to fully remove genital warts caused by HPV.

How to Prevent HPV

Although there’s no treatment for HPV itself, there are several steps that you can take to reduce your risk of contractingHPV or spreading it to others.

One of these is using condoms. While condoms won’t completely eliminate your risk of contracting or spreading HPV, they will reduce it by a significant amount. Using condoms also significantly reduces your risk of exposure to numerous other sexually transmitted infections. 

Another step that you can take to significantly reduce your risk of contracting or spreading HPV is getting the HPV vaccine. You may have already received this as a child. 

Although the vaccine isn’t effective against all types of HPV, it provides protection against many forms of the virus, including those that can lead to cancer. The CDC recommends the vaccine for everyone under the age of 26, as well as some adults aged 27 through forty-five. 

In Conclusion

If you have HPV and notice genital warts on your penis, scrotum, anus or other areas close to your genitals, it’s important to talk to your healthcare provider.

Genital warts from HPV can be treated with several topical medications. In certain cases, your healthcare provider may recommend a surgical treatment to remove the genital warts, such as cryotherapy or surgical excision. 

If your genital warts come back, keep in touch with our healthcare provider. It may take several treatments to fully remove the warts from your penis and surrounding area.

This article is for informational purposes only and does not constitute medical advice. The information contained herein is not a substitute for and should never be relied upon for professional medical advice. Always talk to your doctor about the risks and benefits of any treatment. Learn more about our editorial standards here.