Genital warts are usually small, skin-colored bumps that look like flat domes or small cauliflowers. They are not tender and typically do not bleed with contact. They can be on the inside or outside of the genital areas including the vagina, vulva, cervix, urethra, penis, scrotum, and anus. They are caused by a virus called Human Papillomavirus (HPV). This virus is very different from the common wart virus seen in other areas of the body. Not everyone exposed to HPV gets genital warts. Studies have shown that _ of Americans ages 15 to 49 years old have the antibody to HPV. Why a certain percent develop genital warts is unclear, but it may have to do with the individual’s immunologic response and the serotype of the HPV.
You can get the infection by having oral, vaginal, or anal sex with someone who is infected. HPV can live inside your body for weeks, months, or even years before the warts appear. This makes it impossible to know exactly when exposure to the virus occurred. Certain kinds of HPV may increase a women’s risk of getting cervical cancer. Other risks of cervical cancer are smoking, many difference sex partners, having sex at an early age, and developing another sexually transmitted disease. A Pap Smear is the best way to detect early cervical cancer or its precursor, dysplasia. It is extremely important that women with a history of HPV (treated or untreated) or who have had a sexual partner with a history of HPV (treated or untreated) keep their Pap Smear up-to-date. HPV in males may slightly increase the risk of getting cancer of the penis or anus.
Treatment of genital warts is more complicated that treating simple warts that develop on hands, arms, feet, etc. Genital warts are treated by your doctor. Do no use over-the-counter treatments for genital warts. Basically there are two ways to treat genital warts. The first is ablative (destructive) therapy with surgery; laser or freezing with liquid nitrogen. The second is chemical treatment. Some are patient-applied and some are physician-applied. The chemical methods take up to several weeks to work. The most popular patient applied treatment is condylox (podofilox). This is applied twice a day for three days then off for four days. This cycle may be repeated for up to four cycles. Please see your physician for further advise as to which treatment is best for you and your situation.
Mark Smith, M.D.