Skip to content
BY-NC-ND 4.0 license Open Access Published by De Gruyter March 1, 2011

Human Papillomavirus Testing in Men

  • Kathleen F. McGinley , Wayne Hey , David O. Sussman and Gordon A. Brown


Despite the morbidity associated with anogenital condylomas and the mortality associated with anal, penile, and cervical carcinoma as a direct consequence of human papillomavirus (HPV), the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention currently does not recommend routine screening for HPV in immuno competent men. However, findings of emerging research focusing on the high-risk populations of men who have sex with men and men who test positive for human immunodeficiency virus, in whom HPV infection is pervasive and persistent, suggest that these populations may benefit from screening. Therefore, HPV screening, including anal cytology, should be considered for these men in settings where appropriate follow-up, including high-resolution anoscopy, is available.

Human papillomavirus (HPV) is the most common sexually transmitted disease worldwide, with more than 100 types of HPV identified.1 Approximately 30 HPV types affect the anogenital area.1 More than 99% of cervical cancers and approximately 88% of anal cancers are associated with HPV; the most common oncogenic subtypes are 16 and 18.2-4 Anogenital HPV is categorized as latent (asymptomatic), clinical, or subclinical. Most cases of HPV infection are latent, transient, and detectable only with tests for viral DNA, enabling HPV to be transmitted unknowingly among millions of sexually active adults. Clinical lesions, most commonly caused by HPV types 6 and 11, are visibly apparent and result in anogenital condylomas, or condylomata acuminata, rather than malignancies.1 Subclinical lesions, including the oncogenic types of HPV, are identified on examination after the application of acetic acid solution (3%-5%), a procedure known as acetowhitening. Using this technique, researchers have documented that 50% to 77% of steady male partners of women with HPV infection, cervical neoplasia, or both have subclinical HPV infection.5

Despite the morbidity associated with anogenital condylomas and the mortality associated with anal and cervical carcinomas as direct consequences of HPV infection, the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention currently does not recommend screening men for HPV.6 The infectious disease literature supports this stance on several grounds: the high prevalence of infection, the lack of a test approved by the US Food and Drug Administration for the detection of HPV in men, and the absence of adequate therapy for established infection.7 Effective treatment algorithms for cervical Papanicolaou tests, HPV DNA testing, and colposcopy have been endorsed for women because of the contribution of HPV infection to cervical dysplasia and carcinoma, but similar recommendations are lacking for men. Although routine HPV testing is not necessary for men in the general population, findings from emerging research in high-risk populations of men who have sex with men (MSM) and men who test positive for human immunodeficiency virus (HIV) suggest that HPV infection is pervasive and persistent in these groups, warranting the adoption of additional screening measures.

Association of HPV Infection With Penile and Anal Carcinoma

Studies have demonstrated that HPV is an etiologic factor in the development of penile cancer, penile intraepithelial neoplasia (PIN), anal cancer, and anal intraepithelial neoplasia (AIN).8 The American Cancer Society estimated that approximately 1250 new cases of penile cancer would be diagnosed and 310 men would die of penile cancer in the United States in 2010.9 Although the prevalence of HPV DNA in penile carcinoma is 40% to 45%,10 HPV DNA has been isolated in 75% of patients with grade 1 PIN, 93% of patients with grade 2 PIN, and 100% of patients with grade 3 PIN.11

Regarding anal cancer, the American Cancer Society estimated that approximately 5260 new cases (3260 in women and 2000 in men) would be diagnosed and 720 people (440 women and 280 men) would die of the disease in the United States in 2010.12 Eighty-eight percent to 94% of anal carcinomas are associated with HPV,13 and HPV DNA has been identified in up to 98% of patients with grade 2 or 3 AIN.14

HPV DNA Testing

Among immunocompetent heterosexual men, numerous studies have documented HPV infection rates of approximately 65%.15,16 Research involving the distribution of HPV infection by anogenital anatomic site in heterosexual men has been conducted and reveals the penile shaft to be the most common site of infection.17 Optimal HPV sample collection methods have also been researched; the method with the most diagnostic sensitivity involves running an emery board across the skin at multiple sites followed by a wet Dacron swab to collect cells.17 Although 3 HPV DNA testing kits are commercially available for use in women (Hybrid Capture II [Digene Corporation, Gaithersburg, Maryland], Cervista HPV HR and Cervista HPV 16/18 [Hologic Inc, Bedford, Massachusetts]), none are approved by the Food and Drug Administration for use in men.18

As epidemiologic research continues to identify MSM and HIV-positive men as high-risk subgroups for HPV infection and anal cancer, questions persist regarding the need for HPV testing in this cohort. Although HPV infection is generally transient in immunocompetent heterosexual men, persistent HPV infection is common in HIV-positive MSM.15 The prevalence of HPV infection of the anal canal in HIV-positive MSM is greater than 90%.14,19 A study enrolling 323 HIV-positive MSM in San Francisco County, California, found that the presence of HPV infection increased the risk of AIN 15-fold.14 The incidence of anal cancer and AIN among MSM is 25 to 50 times higher than in the general population.20 Subsequent research involving HIV-positive MSM undergoing both HPV genotyping and anal cytology did not find HPV genotyping to be a valuable adjunct to cytologic screening; the efficacy of anal cytology in detecting cellular atypia was adequate without the contribution of HPV typing.21

HPV Screening Through Anal Cytology

Researchers have proposed that an anal cancer screening program similar to cervical cancer screening, using anal cytology followed by referral of patients with abnormal results to high-resolution anoscopy and subsequent treatment of biopsy-proved AIN, may prevent the development of anal cancer.20 The reported sensitivity and specificity of anal cytology relative to findings at biopsy (sensitivity, 69%-93%; specificity, 32%-59%, respectively) are similar to findings in studies comparing cervical cytology and cervical biopsy for the prevention of cervical cancer.15 Although the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention does not recommend anal cytology screening, other organizations such as the New York State Department of Health do recommend annual anal cytology for MSM and any HIV-positive patients with a history of anogenital condylomas.22 Among patients with HIV- or HPV-related lesions, histologic signs of dysplasia are apparent in more than one-fifth of those who undergo testing.23 Among HIV-positive MSM, the positive predictive value of abnormal anal cytology to predict anal dysplasia is approximately 95%.15

The goal of anal cytology is to identify patients with cellular changes in the epithelial cells that line the anal canal; any patients with atypia are then referred to undergo high-resolution anoscopy. No specific preparation is necessary before anal cytology, though patients should be instructed to refrain from receptive anal sex and enemas for 24 hours before testing. If a digital rectal examination is performed in conjunction with anal cytology, the cytologic sample must be obtained before lubrication is introduced into the anal canal. The standard technique used in obtaining anal cytologic specimens involves inserting a water-moistened Dacron swab into the anal canal to above the squamocolumnar transition zone, approximately 2 cm (1 inch) from the anal verge. While mild external pressure is applied to the anal wall, the swab is gently manipulated in a craniocaudal and circular motion within the canal. After several rotations, the swab should be withdrawn and immediately immersed in methanol-based preservative-transport solution.22

Studies have also been conducted to evaluate the sensitivity of patient-collected samples. In a cohort study, HIV-positive patients with AIN at the University of California, San Francisco, were provided with written instructions and a cytology self-collection kit; self-collected samples were obtained within 1 month of clinician-collected samples. Approximately 91% of self-collected and 99% of clinician-collected samples were adequate for interpretation.24 Although self-collection of anal cytologic samples may broaden screening to a larger population, the availability of adequate followup and high-resolution anoscopy varies. Anal cytology should be offered only in areas where appropriate further diagnostic and therapeutic treatment alternatives are available, including high-resolution anoscopy.

Penile HPV Screening

Penile screening for HPV is not recommended because of the high prevalence of penile HPV and the generally self-limited duration of infection in immunocompetent men.7 In contrast to AIN and anal cancer, very little data are available regarding the natural history of HPV infection and the development of PIN or penile cancer in MSM or HIV-positive men.15 Unlike AIN, PIN cannot be diagnosed by cytology; any suspicious penile lesion requires biopsy for pathology.


There is currently no widely recognized role for HPV testing in men, but the contribution of HPV infection to the development of AIN and anal carcinoma in MSM and HIV-positive men is clinically significant. Screening measures, including anal cytology, should be considered for this population in settings where appropriate follow-up is available, including high-resolution anoscopy and treatment of biopsy-proved AIN. Before definitive guidelines on the role of anal cytology can be offered, more studies are needed to elucidate the role of early detection of AIN and the effects of AIN treatment on disease progression to invasive carcinoma.

From the University of Medicine and Dentistry of New Jersey–School of Osteopathic Medicine in Stratford (Dr McGinley and Hey) and Delaware Valley Urology in Voorhees (Drs Sussman and Brown), both in New Jersey.
Address correspondence to Gordon A. Brown, DO, Delaware Valley Urology, 1605 Evesham Rd, Voorhees, NJ 08043-1437.E-mail:

  1. Financial Disclosures: The authors have no conflicts of interest or financial disclosures relevant to the article topic.

  2. This supplement is supported by an independent educational grant from Merck & Co, Inc.

1 Frenkl T, Potts J. Sexually transmitted diseases. In: Wein A. Campbell-Walsh Urology. Philadelphia, PA: Saunders;2007 : 371-385.Search in Google Scholar

2 Frisch M, Glimelius B, van den Brule AJ, et al. Sexually transmitted infection as a cause of anal cancer. N Engl J Med. 1997;337(19):1350-1358.10.1056/NEJM199711063371904Search in Google Scholar

3 Walboomers JM, Jacobs MV, Manos MM, et al. Human papillomavirus is a necessary cause of invasive cervical cancer worldwide. J Pathol. 1999;189(1):12-19.10.1002/(SICI)1096-9896(199909)189:1<12::AID-PATH431>3.0.CO;2-FSearch in Google Scholar

4 Kulasingam SL, Hughes JP, Kiviat NB, et al. Evaluation of human papillomavirus testing in primary screening for cervical abnormalities: comparison of sensitivity, specificity, and frequency of referral. JAMA. 2002;288(14):1749-1757.10.1001/jama.288.14.1749Search in Google Scholar

5 Schneider A, Kirchmayr R, De Villiers EM, Gissmann L. Subclinical human papillomavirus infection in male sexual partners of female carriers. J Urol. 1988;140(6):1431-1434.10.1016/S0022-5347(17)42065-9Search in Google Scholar

6 Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. HPV and men. CDC Fact Sheet. Accessed September 5, 2009.Search in Google Scholar

7 Dunne EF, Nielson CM, Stone KM, Markowitz LE, Giuliano AR. Prevalence of HPV infection among men: a systematic review of the literature. J Infect Dis. 2006;194(8):1044-1057.10.1086/507432Search in Google Scholar

8 Parkin DM, Bray F. Chapter 2: the burden of HPV-related cancers [review]. Vaccine. 2006;24(suppl 3):11-25.10.1016/j.vaccine.2006.05.111Search in Google Scholar

9 American Cancer Society. Cancer reference information. Detailed guide: penile cancer. Accessed January 20, 2011.Search in Google Scholar

10 Gross G, Pfister H. Role of human papillomavirus in penile cancer, penile intraepithelial squamous cell neoplasias and in genital warts. Med Microbiol Immunol. 2004;193(1):35-44.10.1007/s00430-003-0181-2Search in Google Scholar

11 Aynaud O, Ionesco M, Barrasso R. Penile intraepithelial neoplasia: specific clinical features correlate with histologic and virologic findings. Cancer. 1994;74(6):1762-1767.10.1002/1097-0142(19940915)74:6<1762::AID-CNCR2820740619>3.0.CO;2-1Search in Google Scholar

12 American Cancer Society. Cancer reference information. Detailed guide: anal cancer. Accessed January 20, 2011.Search in Google Scholar

13 Munoz N, Castellsague X, de Gonzalez AB, Gissmann L. HPV in the etiology of human cancer. Vaccine. 2006;24(suppl 3):1-10.10.1016/j.vaccine.2005.07.047Search in Google Scholar

14 Palefsky JM, Holly EA, Efirdc JT, et al. Anal intraepithelial neoplasia in the highly active antiretroviral therapy era among HIV-positive men who have sex with men. AIDS. 2005;19(13):1407-1414.10.1097/01.aids.0000181012.62385.4aSearch in Google Scholar

15 Kreuter A, Wieland U. Human papillomavirus-associated diseases in HIV-infected men who have sex with men. Curr Opin Infect Dis. 2009;22(2):109-114.10.1097/QCO.0b013e3283229fc8Search in Google Scholar PubMed

16 Nielson CM, Flores R, Harris RB, et al. Human papillomavirus prevalence and type distribution in male anogenital sites and semen. Cancer Epidemiol Biomarkers Prevention. 2007;16(6):1107-1114.10.1158/1055-9965.EPI-06-0997Search in Google Scholar PubMed

17 Weaver BA, Feng Q, Holmes KK, et al. Evaluation of genital sites and sampling techniques for detection of human papillomavirus DNA in men. J Infect Dis. 2004;189(4):677-685.10.1086/381395Search in Google Scholar PubMed

18 Association of Reproductive Health Professionals. Managing HPV: a new era in patient care. Clinical Proceedings series. June 2009. Accessed September 1, 2009.Search in Google Scholar

19 Kreuter A, Brockmeyer NH, Altmeyer P, Wieland U. Anal intraepithelial neoplasia in HIV infection. J Dtsch Dermatol Ges. 2008;6(11):925-934.10.1111/j.1610-0387.2008.06737_supp.xSearch in Google Scholar

20 Chin-Hong PV, Husnik M, Cranston RD, et al. Anal human papillomavirus infection is associated with HIV acquisition in men who have sex with men. AIDS. 2009;23(9):1135-1142.10.1097/QAD.0b013e32832b4449Search in Google Scholar PubMed PubMed Central

21 Fox PA, Seet JE, Stebbing J, et al. The value of anal cytology and human papillomavirus typing in the detection of anal intraepithelial neoplasia: a review of cases from an anoscopy clinic. Sex Transm Infect. 2005;81(2):142-146.10.1136/sti.2003.008318Search in Google Scholar PubMed PubMed Central

22 New York State Department of Health AIDS Institute. Neoplastic complications of HIV infection. Accessed September 5, 2009.Search in Google Scholar

23 Abramowitz L, Benabderrahmane D, Ravaud P, et al. Anal squamous intraepithelial lesions and condyloma in HIV-infected heterosexual men, homosexual men and women: prevalence and associated factors. AIDS. 2007;21(11):1457-1465.10.1097/QAD.0b013e3281c61201Search in Google Scholar PubMed

24 Cranston RD, Darragh TM, Holly EA, et al. Self-collected versus clinician-collected anal cytology specimens to diagnose anal intraepithelial neoplasia in HIV-positive men. J Acquir Immun Defic Syndr. 2004;36(4):915-920.10.1097/00126334-200408010-00004Search in Google Scholar PubMed

Published Online: 2011-03-01
Published in Print: 2011-03-01

The American Osteopathic Association

This work is licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivatives 4.0 International License.

Downloaded on 21.9.2023 from
Scroll to top button