In a new study from the Moffitt Cancer Center, men who reported consuming the most alcohol—just over 2 drinks a day—had a 13 percent increased risk (*) for contracting any kind of human papillomavirus than light drinkers. The big boozers’ risk of infection for specific cancer-causing strains was also 35 percent higher.
Yes, your first thought is correct: In the study, the guys who drank the most also tended to have more sex with more women. But the association remained even after researchers adjusted the data to take risky behavior into account.
While the study doesn’t show cause and effect, the findings point to a possible link between excess alcohol consumption and weakened immunity to HPV, says study author Matthew Schabath, Ph.D. Even a moderate booze intake can impact your protection against the immediate effects of infection, and hinder your ability to develop immunity. This can leave you vulnerable to bugs like the cold, flu, and yep, even HPV.
Most guys will contract HPV at some point in their lives. According to research in The Lancet, 50 percent of men studied over an average follow-up of just over 2 years tested positive for some kind of HPV.
Usually, you don’t even know you have the STD. But some strains of the virus can cause genital warts, and others may increase your risk of anal, penile, or mouth and throat cancers. Plus, you can pass the infection on to your partner.
Because HPV is spread through skin-to-skin contact, wearing a condom can reduce your risk of contracting it—but it won’t fully prevent it. That’s why you should consider the HPV vaccine, which can protect against future infection.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommends the vaccine for straight guys through age 21, and for men who have sex with men through age 26.
* Note: The increased risk shown in this study is based on a calculation known as a prevalence ratio. This compares the likelihood of something occurring in the experimental group (in this case, people who drank the most) compared to in the control group (those who drank the least). For instance, 35 percent of men who drank the most were infected with potentially cancer-causing strains of HPV, compared to 23 percent of those who drank the least. This results in a 35 percent increased risk after statistically adjusting for factors like age, smoking status, and number of sexual partners.