Genital warts are growths or bumps that appear:
- On the vulva
- In or around the vagina or anus
- On the cervix
- On the penis, scrotum, groin, or thigh
- Rarely, in the mouth or throat
Genital warts is one of the most common sexually transmitted diseases (STDs).
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Genital warts are caused by the human papillomavirus (HPV). There are many different types of HPV. Only a few types are thought to cause genital warts. Many types of HPV are associated with harmless skin warts found on the fingers or feet. Most people will be exposed to a form of HPV at some point in their lives. Not everyone will become infected or develop symptoms.
Certain types of HPV may cause cervical cancer . Less commonly, certain strains of HPV can cause cancers of the vulva, anus, or penis.
HPV is easily spread during oral, genital, or anal sex with an infected partner. Most people who have sex with an infected partner will also develop genital warts.
Warts can also be spread to an infant during delivery if the mother has genital warts.
Factors that may increase your risk for HPV and genital warts include:
- Multiple sexual partners
- Sex without condoms
- Having a weakened immune system
- Sex at an early age
- Skin-to-skin contact with an infected partner
- Previous history of genital warts or other STDs
Genital warts often look like fleshy, raised growths. They can have a cauliflower shape, and often appear in clusters. Some warts may be flat. The warts may not be easy to see with the unaided eye. Warts can take several weeks or months to appear after the infection.
In women, warts may be found in the following areas:
- Vulva or vagina
- Inside or around the vagina or anus
In men, warts are less common. If present, they are usually found in these areas:
- Tip or shaft of the penis
- Around the anus
While warts do not usually cause symptoms, the following may occur:
Genital warts may be diagnosed by:
A doctor can usually diagnose genital warts by looking at them. If external warts are found on a woman, then the cervix is usually also checked. A special solution may be used to help find lesions that do not have classic features.
A sample of cervical or vular tissue may be taken and tested for HPV.
Treatment helps the symptoms, but does not cure the virus. The virus stays in your body. This means the warts may recur.
Your treatment depends on the size and location of the warts. Not all warts need to be treated. If left untreated, some may go away on their own, but others may stay. Some warts may also get larger or spread.
Treatments may include:
Topical medication is applied directly to the skin. It may be a cream, ointment, resin, solution, or acid.
Cryosurgery, Electrocautery, or Laser Treatment
Methods that instantly destroy warts include:
- Cryosurgery (freezing)
- Electrocautery (burning)
- Laser treatment
These methods are used on small warts. It may be used on larger warts that have not responded to other treatment. A large wart can also be removed with surgery.
The only way to completely prevent HPV from spreading is to avoid physical contact with infected partners.
Latex condoms may help reduce the spread of HPV infection and genital warts. Condoms are not 100% effective because they do not cover the entire genital area.
Other ways to help prevent infection include:
- Abstain from sex.
- Have a monogamous relationship.
- Get regular check-ups for STDs.
There is a vaccine for HPV. It is given over 6 months as a series of 3 injections to girls and boys. It is routinely given between the ages of 11-12 years old. It may be given between the ages of 9 years to 26 years old.
- Marcie Sidman, MD
- Reviewed: 06/2016
- Updated: 05/28/2015
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