What are Genital Warts?
Genital warts are common and are caused by certain types of HPV. Genital warts can be annoying, but they’re treatable and aren’t dangerous. Genital warts are soft growths that appear on the genitals. They’re a sexually transmitted infection (STI) caused by certain strains of the human papillomavirus (HPV). Genital warts can cause pain, discomfort, and itching. HPV is the most common of all STIs. Men and women who are sexually active are vulnerable to complications of HPV, including genital warts. HPV infection is especially dangerous for women because some types of HPV can also cause cancer of the cervix and vulva. However, most HPV infections will not lead to visible warts and most people will not know they have the virus.
In males, warts may appear on the penis, scrotum (balls), in or around the anus, or the groin area. In females, warts may appear around the vulva (entire outer female genital area), in or around the vagina, in or around the anus, the groin (where the genital area meets the inner thigh), or the cervix (although this is less common than external warts).
How do you get genital warts?
You get genital warts from having skin-to-skin contact with someone who’s infected, often during vaginal, anal, and oral sex. Genital warts can be spread even if no one cums, and a penis doesn’t have to go inside a vagina or anus to get them. You can spread them even when you don’t have any visible warts or other symptoms, though that’s less common. You can also pass genital warts to a baby during vaginal childbirth, but that’s pretty rare.
Research has found that smokers have a higher risk for getting genital warts than people who do not smoke. It is not clear why. people who have a weakened immune system may not be able to fight the virus. When the body cannot fight HPV, genital warts can grow. A person’s immune system can become weak from a disease such as cancer or AIDS. Some medicines, such as those to prevent organ rejection, also weaken the immune system.
Genital warts are different from warts you might get elsewhere on your body. So you can’t get genital warts by touching yourself (or a partner) with a wart that’s on your hand or foot.
Genital Wart Diagnosis
Your doctor may perform the following tests to check for genital warts and/or related STDs:
- An examination of visible growths to see if they look like genital warts
- Application of a mild acetic acid (vinegar) solution to highlight less visible growths
- A complete pelvic exam and Pap smear (for women)
- A specialized test for high-risk HPV (low risk should not be screened for), collected in a way similar to a Pap smear
- Biopsy of cervical tissue (if abnormal pap smear or visible abnormality) to make sure there are no abnormal cells that could develop into HPV-related cervical cancer; a cervical biopsy involves taking a small sample of tissue from the cervix and examining it under a microscope.