Genital Warts

Cause: Human Papilloma Virus (HPV)

What are genital warts?

The genital wart appears as a soft, flesh toned, bumpy growth that often looks like miniature pieces of cauliflower. They can be small, or they can cluster in large masses. They can be found on the vulva, in the vagina, on the cervix, penis, anus and urethra. Some genital wart viruses can cause cancer of the cervix, vulva, vagina or penis.

What are the symptoms of genital warts?

The individual may notice warts from one month to several years after they have been infected. Warts are usually not painful, but may cause some itching. They may become painful or uncomfortable if they go untreated and block the opening to the urethra, vagina, anus or throat. Some infections may be invisible to the naked eye, but can be detected with a Pap smear or colposcopy.

How is it diagnosed?

A doctor or nurse practitioner are the only ones who can diagnose a case of genital warts. They are often seen during a woman’s gynecological exam. HPV infections are diagnosed through colposcopy, biopsy, and Pap smear. There are tests for the viruses DNA which are also now available.

How are genital warts spread from person to person?

They are usually spread through oral, vaginal and anal intercourse. They CAN be spread even when the warts are not present, although this is less likely. Also, since the warts are sometimes hard to see (as when they are high up in the vagina) they can be passed along by someone who doesn’t know that they are infected.

Can genital warts be treated and cured?

Warts can be treated, but not cured. They are treated with a solution that is applied to the wart itself by a doctor or nurse practitioner. This solution will freeze or burn the wart off. The person may have to return during the following weeks for repeat treatment. HPVs may remain even when warts are removed, so it is possible that you could still infect others, and it is possible that the virus may reappear. Genital warts will reappear in approximately 20% of the cases that are treated.

How can genital wart transmission be prevented?

People who have only one sexual partner are the least likely to get genital warts. If you do have more than one partner, or are unsure if your partner may have more than one partner, it is very important to use condoms. It should be noted, however, that condoms cannot protect areas they do not cover. For example: the groin area, the upper thighs and the abdomen.