What are genital warts?

Also called condylomata acuminata, they are warts which appear in various sizes and shapes in the genital area, there can be one or several. People see these warts after being infected with human papillomavirus (HPV) from another person, transmitted sexually. With no visible warts, it is still possible to transmit or receive. Just a few of the 100 types cause warts, so often those who have HPV are not aware they have it. Some strains of HPV can cause cervical cancer, and others anal cancer, penis, throat and mouth cancer, and it is possible to get more than one type of HPV.

What are the symptoms?

Small, scattered bumps that look like cauliflower, growths in the genital area, for females occur on the vulva, vagina, cervix, and for males the penis, scrotum, thigh and groin. Both sexes may see it in the mouth or throat after oral sex, or anus after anal sex with an infected person.

Who gets and what causes genital warts?

Anyone who has sex, at half of sexually active people get HPV, and it’s most common before 30 years of age. Not everyone with HPV gets warts, because the immune system fights the virus, and most get rid of it . Most people get rid of the virus in a few years and then are no longer contagious. A weakened immune system may have trouble fighting the virus allowing warts to manifest. Smoking increases the risk, possibly by weakening the immune system. Genital warts spread from one person to another through sex or genital contact, which sometimes won’t appear for weeks or months after infection.

How is it diagnosed and treated?

While people are typically embarrassed about genital warts, but a Dermatology of Seattle dermatologist can help give you peace of mind. A biopsy may be performed on one of the warts, which means it will be examined to confirm the condition. Sometimes, warts clear without treatment. Removing them has certain benefits, like lowering the risk of spreading HPV, and reliving pain and itching. Do not use a non-prescription wart medicine, as these are intended for a different kind of wart.

There are many treatment options. Often prescribed are topical medicines applied to the warts. Podofilox stops the wart cells from proliferating, imiquimod is an immune system booster, and sometimes an ointment made from green tea extract is applied topically. There are also procedures, like cryosurgery which freezes off warts, or excision which cuts them out. Electrocautery and laser treatment are also used. If other treatments fail, sometimes Interferon is injected into the warts–this is an antiviral medicine. There can by side effects from treatment as well. Treatment removes the warts, but may not destroy the virus. If the virus remains, you may get warts again or spread the virus.