Genital Warts/HPV

A Rough and Bumpy Road

HPV germs in genital tissue


What are genital warts?

Genital warts are warts that appear on your genitals or around the outside of your anus. They’re also called venereal warts. They’re caused by the human papilloma virus (HPV). You can catch HPV through intimate sexual contact, which is any touching of your genitals to another person’s mouth, genitals, or anus. Genital warts are different from warts that are found on other parts of the body.

How do you get genital warts?

Genital warts are a sexually transmitted disease and they’re almost always passed by intimate sexual contact, with or without intercourse. Boys can have the human papilloma virus (HPV) without knowing it. Most boys who carry HPV don’t ever get genital warts. They have the virus and spread it, but don’t even know they have it.

Who can get genital warts?

Anyone can get genital warts, especially if you don’t use a condom during any kind of intimate sexual contact. You don’t have to have intercourse to catch warts. You can get them if you have oral sex or anal sex, or even if you just touch another person’s genitals.

It’s pretty unlikely that you can get human papilloma virus from toilet water splashing on you. You also can feel safe in the locker room—you can’t get it from using someone else’s towel either.

What can I do to avoid genital warts?

You can reduce your chances of getting genital warts by using a condom during any kind of intimate sexual contact. But human papilloma virus, which causes the warts, can be anywhere on a person’s skin, so you can catch it from areas that aren’t covered by a condom. The best way to avoid getting genital warts or any sexually transmitted disease is to not have sex or intimate sexual contact at all.

Some people can have the virus HPV in their bodies for weeks, months, or even years before getting the actual warts. And smokers, beware: People who have HPV and smoke cigarettes are more likely to develop genital warts than those who don’t smoke.

How do I know if I have genital warts?

You’ll see them. You’ll find small growths on your penis or around the outside of your vagina and the surrounding area that feel hard and bumpy and look like cauliflower. The warts can also grow around the anus and in the space between the vagina and the anus. They usually don’t hurt.

What should I do if I think I have genital warts?

Make an appointment with your health professional. She or he can usually tell that you have genital warts just by looking at them. If there’s any question that what you have is not a wart, your health professional will do a biopsy on the area. A piece of tissue from the biopsy will be tested to be sure that what you have is genital warts and not something else.

Can genital warts lead to other health problems?

It’s really important for you and your health professional to know if you have genital warts, because they can cause more serious problems in women. Human papilloma virus often spreads to the inner part of the vagina and cervix and is almost definitely the cause of cervical cancer and precancerous cells on the cervix called cervical dysplasia. If you’re a woman and have genital warts, it’s really important to get a Pap smear every year, which your health professional will do at your pelvic exam.

How do I get rid of genital warts?

Once you’ve got it, human papilloma virus is there to stay. It takes up permanent residence in your body and you can’t be cured of it. The good news is you can get rid of the warts when they rear up, because even though they’re not painful, they can be annoying. You can take some medicine to get rid of them or have them removed by your health professional.

The most common way to get rid of genital warts is by applying medication directly to them. Usually, your health professional will do this because the medicine used to dissolve the warts is very strong. It’s so strong that some of the skin near the warts may burn or get irritated while the warts are going away.

You may need to return to your health professional’s office once a week for a few weeks to have more medicine applied on the warts until they go away completely. But because HPV is still in your body, even though you can get them removed, they can come back.

Will I need surgery to remove the genital warts?

Your health professional can remove larger warts or warts that have areas of precancerous cells with minor surgery right in the office, using a laser or loop electrode excision (LEEP). LEEP is a small loop that cuts and burns at the same time. Laser surgery and LEEP are different from regular surgery. This kind of surgery is more precise and tiny areas, such as warts, can be removed easily. Don’t worry – there’s very little bleeding. You also won’t need stitches and there’s less chance of scarring.

Each wart will take a few minutes to remove, but it should all be over pretty quickly. Here’s what’ll happen if you have to get your warts removed with laser or LEEP:

  • If you’re a woman, you’ll lie on the table with your feet in the stirrups, just as you would in a pelvic exam.
  • Your health professional will first use an anesthetic on the area, which temporarily numbs the feeling in your skin and tissues.
  • He or she will start to take off the warts. You won’t feel the laser removing them, but you might feel a bit of pressure from the equipment. If you do feel pain, tell your health professional right away! She or he will apply some more anesthetic on the area.

Who should I talk to if I think I have genital warts?

You should call your health professional whenever you notice any warts or skin that feels hard and bumpy on the outside or inside of your penis, vagina, or anus. If you’re a woman, remember to have a pelvic exam once a year if you’re sexually active. During the exam, your health professional will check to see if you have genital warts.