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 are a common sexually transmitted infection (STI).
The warts are caused by the human papillomavirus (HPV). It is spread during oral, genital, or anal sex with partner who has the virus.
Warts can also be spread to an infant during birth if the mother has genital warts.
The warts are more common in young adults.
Factors that may raise your risk are:
- Skin-to-skin contact with an infected partner
- Sex without condoms
- Having more than one sex partner
- Sex at an early age
- Prior STIs
The warts often look like fleshy, raised growths. They can have a cauliflower shape, and often appear in groups. Some warts may be flat. The warts may not be easy to see with the unaided eye. Warts can take 3 weeks to 18 months to appear after the infection.
Warts usually don’t cause symptoms, but you may have:
- Bleeding or irritation on contact
In women, warts may be found on the:
- Vulva or vagina
- Inside or around the vagina or anus
In men, warts may be found on the:
- Tip or shaft of the penis
- Around the anus
Genital warts may be diagnosed by:
A doctor can diagnose the warts by looking at them. If warts are found on a woman, then the cervix will be checked. A special solution may be used to help view the area.
A biopsy may be taken confirm the diagnosis.
Treatment helps the symptoms, but does not cure the virus. The virus stays in your body. This means the warts may come back.
Your treatment depends on the size of the warts and where they are. Not all warts need to be treated. Some may go away on their own, but others may stay. Some warts may also get larger or spread.
Here are some treatments:
Topical medicine is put on the skin. It may be a cream, ointment, resin, solution, or acid.
Cryosurgery, Electrocautery, or Lasers
Methods that destroy warts on contact are:
- Cryosurgery (freezing)
- Electrocautery (burning)
- Laser treatment
These methods are used on small warts. It may be used on larger warts that have not gotten better with other treatments. A large wart can also be removed with surgery.
The only way to prevent HPV from spreading is to avoid contact with infected partners.
Latex condoms may help lower the spread of the virus and warts. Condoms are not 100% effective because they do not cover the entire genital area.
Other ways to help prevent infection are:
- Abstain from sex.
- Have sex with only one person.
There is a vaccine for the virus. It is given over 6 months as a series of 3 shots 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.
- Reviewer: EBSCO Medical Review Board Beverly Siegal, MD, FACOG
- Review Date: 05/2018 -
- Update Date: 08/02/2018 -