(Anogenital Warts; Condyloma Acuminata; Human Papillomavirus [HPV]; Penile Warts; Venereal Warts; Warts, Genital)En Español (Spanish Version)
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
- In the mouth or throat (rare)
The warts may be raised or flat, single or multiple, small or large. Some may cluster to form a cauliflower-like shape. This condition is one of the most common sexually transmitted diseases (STDs).
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Genital warts are caused by the human papillomavirus (HPV). HPV is a family of more than 80 common viruses. Many types of HPV cause harmless skin warts, such as those on the fingers or feet. Only a few types are thought to cause genital warts.
HPV is easily spread during oral, genital, or anal sex with an infected partner. About two-thirds of people who have sex with a partner who has genital warts will also develop them. Warts can take several weeks or months to appear.
Most people will be exposed to a form of HPV at some point in their lives. Although, not everyone will become infected or develop symptoms.
Complications of HPV
Most strains of HPV that produce genital warts do not cause cancer. But certain strains may cause cervical cancer. Less commonly, cancers of the vulva, anus, or penis occur. It is important for women to have yearly Pap tests to detect any HPV-related problems.
Pregnancy and Childbirth Complications
Genital warts may get larger during pregnancy. This may make it hard to urinate. Warts in or near the vaginal opening may block the birth canal during delivery.
Risk factors for HPV and genital warts include:
Genital warts often look like fleshy, raised growths with a cauliflower shape. They often appear in clusters.
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
The following symptoms may also occur:
- Secondary bacterial infection with redness, tenderness, or pus
Genital warts may be diagnosed by:
A doctor can diagnose genital warts by looking at them. If external warts are found on a woman, then the cervix is usually also checked. A doctor may use a special solution to help find lesions that do not have classic features.
If you get abnormal Pap test results, this may indicate HPV. But, your doctor will order more accurate tests, like a colposcopy, to diagnose HPV.
Colposcopy and Biopsy
During a colposcopy, the doctor uses a special device to see if warts are in the cervix and vagina. For a biopsy, the doctor takes a tissue sample and tests it.
During an HPV test, a swab of cells from the affected area can be checked for certain types of HPV.
Your treatment depends on the size and location of the warts. Treatment helps the symptoms, but does not cure the virus. The virus stays in your body. Warts or other problems may recur.
Treatments may include:
Your doctor may recommend one of these medications to be applied to the affected areas:
- Imiquimod cream
- Podophyllum resin
- Podofilox solution
- 5-Fluorouracil cream
- Trichloroacetic 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 and on large warts that have not responded to other treatment. A large wart can also be removed surgically. For warts that keep coming back, an antiviral drug, called alpha-interferon, can be injected into the wart.
The only way to completely prevent HPV from spreading is to avoid physical contact with an infected partner.
Latex condoms may help reduce the spread of HPV infection and genital warts. But, condoms are not 100% effective. They do not cover the entire genital area.
Other ways to prevent infection include:
- Abstaining from sex
- Having a monogamous relationship
- Getting regular check-ups for STDs
- For women, getting regular Pap tests (starting at age 18 or at the start of sexually activity)
Genital warts are rare in children. This diagnosis may indicate sexual abuse, which needs to be reported.
American Social Health Association
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention
Sex Information and Education Council of Canada
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Last reviewed March 2008 by Marcin Chwistek, MD
Please be aware that this information is provided to supplement the care provided by your physician. It is neither intended nor implied to be a substitute for professional medical advice. CALL YOUR HEALTHCARE PROVIDER IMMEDIATELY IF YOU THINK YOU MAY HAVE A MEDICAL EMERGENCY. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health provider prior to starting any new treatment or with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition.
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