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Patient education: Anogenital warts (The Basics)

Patient education: Anogenital warts (The Basics)

What are anogenital warts? — Anogenital warts are small growths that form on the vulva (the lips of the vagina), vagina, penis, anus, or skin near these areas. They can be skin-colored, pink, or brown in color.

Anogenital warts are caused by a virus called human papillomavirus, or "HPV." You can catch this virus during sex. Anogenital warts are often called just "genital warts."

Is HPV dangerous? — The type of HPV that causes most forms of genital warts is not usually dangerous. But other types of HPV can lead to cancer of the cervix (the bottom part of the uterus that leads to the vagina), penis, or anus.

Do warts hurt or itch? — Not usually. Most people with genital warts have no symptoms (other than the warts). But some people have itching, burning, or tenderness.

Is there a test for genital warts? — Your doctor or nurse can usually see if you have warts just by doing an exam. He or she might also take small samples of tissue (biopsy) if it is not clear what you have. But that is not usually necessary.

How are genital warts treated? — There are several treatments that can help get rid of warts. Your doctor or nurse can help you to choose the treatment that is best for you.

Some medicines work by slowly destroying the warts. Others work by getting your body's own infection-fighting system to attack the warts.

Most medicines are lotions or gels that go on the warts. They have to be applied one or more times a week for many weeks. Some medicines must be applied by a doctor or nurse. Others you can apply yourself.

There are different treatments to remove warts:

Cryotherapy, which uses a chemical to freeze warts

Electrocautery, which uses electricity to burn away warts

Traditional surgery, which involves cutting away warts

Laser surgery, which uses light to destroy warts

Ultrasound surgery, which uses sound waves to break up and remove warts (this is not available in many places)

What if I am pregnant? — If you are pregnant, make sure to tell your doctor before you get treated for genital warts. Some of the treatments for genital warts are safe to use during pregnancy, but others are not.

What happens after treatment? — After you have been treated for warts, your doctor or nurse might ask you to check once in a while to see if they come back.

You should know that even if you cannot see any warts, you might still have HPV. That means that warts can come back at any time. If warts do come back, you could spread them to someone else.

Can genital warts be prevented? — Yes. There are now vaccines against HPV. They can help prevent infection with most of the forms of HPV that cause warts. But the vaccines can prevent infection only if you get vaccinated before you get warts.

You can also protect yourself by not having sex with anyone who is infected with HPV. But that is hard, because people do not always know that they have the virus. Condoms can help reduce the risk of infection. But they do not totally protect you. The virus can live on places on the skin not covered by a condom.

More on this topic

Patient education: Chlamydia and gonorrhea (The Basics)
Patient education: Genital herpes (The Basics)
Patient education: Screening for sexually transmitted infections (The Basics)
Patient education: HIV/AIDS (The Basics)
Patient education: Trichomoniasis (The Basics)
Patient education: Human papillomavirus (HPV) (The Basics)

Patient education: Genital warts in women (Beyond the Basics)
Patient education: Chlamydia (Beyond the Basics)
Patient education: Gonorrhea (Beyond the Basics)
Patient education: Genital herpes (Beyond the Basics)

This topic retrieved from UpToDate on: Oct 01, 2023.
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