Genital warts, clinically known as condylomata acuminate, are warts found in the genital area that may appear as one wart or a cluster of warts. Genital warts are acquired by transmission of the human papillomavirus (HPV) from someone who is already a carrier. HPV is a common sexually transmitted virus and it may be possible to spread regardless if warts are visible or not. There are numerous types of HPV, yet HPV types 6 & 11 are the viral strains associated with genital warts. Fortunately, approximately 90% of those who contract HPV will not develop genital warts leaving only 10% who will. Most people never get genital warts because the body’s immune system fights off the virus. HPV typically clears from the body within a few years where the carrier is no longer contagious. It is worth noting that it may be possible for someone to contract more than one strain of HPV. Other HPV strains have been found to cause cervical cancer, anal cancer, mouth cancer, throat cancer, and cancer of the penis. Though it is still unclear, evidence has found that smokers have a higher risk for contracting genital warts than non-smokers.
Anyone who is sexually active is at risk for contracting human papillomavirus (HPV). As mentioned above, HPV strains 6 & 11 are responsible for developing genital warts. They may spread through direct skin-to-skin contact mostly during: sex (vaginal, anal, or oral), genital contact, or pregnancy (infected mother passes it to the child, in utero). Genital warts may not appear until weeks or months after sex and are more common before the age of 30.
Genital warts appear in various sizes and shapes. Some people get a few warts while others get many warts. The most common signs and symptoms of genital warts are: raised/rough growths; flat/smooth growths; cauliflower-like bumps; and small-scattered bumps that appear to be either skin colored or darker than skin color. Genital warts often have no symptomology, yet at times itching, burning, or bleeding may occur. Genital warts can appear on both male and female genitals, thighs, groin, in or around the anus, and in or around the mouth.
We can diagnose genital warts by examining the warts during an office visit. Typically, we will complete a biopsy where either the whole wart or a portion of the wart is removed and sent to a laboratory for analysis. Based on the pathological findings, a biopsy can confirm if you have genital warts.
There are a variety of treatment options for managing genital warts. We will take into account: the number of warts, the location, and your overall health in considering the best treatment regimen. Topical medications such as Podofilox (stops wart cells from growing) and Imiquimod (combats the lytic phase of HPV) have been found to be effective in treating genital warts. Surgical treatments that have been found to be effective are, but not limited to: excision (cut out the warts), electrocautery (destroys warts with an electric current), laser treatment (destroy warts with light amplification), and cryosurgery (freezes off warts with liquid nitrogen). It is important to note that although treatment may remove visible warts, it may not get rid of the virus. If the virus remains, the warts can return.