Genital Warts FAQs

Warts aren't pretty and are highly infectious. Best avoided because although they can be treated, they can't be cured.
What are they?

Warts on the genitals or anus caused by a virus that lives in the skin.

What are the main symptoms?
  • Tiny growths or protrusions on or around the penis and anus. As these warts grow, they sometimes become cauliflower shaped. Warts usually develop within three months of infection.
  • Some people don't have any signs of infection at all, but they're still able to transmit the virus.
  • However, infection is not necessarily for life, as some people are able to clear the virus. 
What's the risk?

Genital warts are the most common viral sexually transmitted infection diagnosed in GUM clinics in the UK. The highest rates in men are among 20—24 year olds. 

What causes them?
  • Warts are caused by the human papilloma virus (HPV). There are 90 different types of HPV, a third of which are transmitted sexually.
  • Warts are spread easily by skin-to-skin contact. 
How can I prevent them?

Condoms do not offer full protection, but they're the best form of prevention currently available. 

Should I see a doctor?
  • Yes. Your best bet is to visit a specialist GUM clinic, which can provide a confidential service.
  • Your doctor will make a diagnosis by looking at the affected area. If you practise receptive anal sex, your doctor may insert a type of magnifying glass (a proctoscope) into your back passage.
  • It's important to get warts treated because there is some evidence to suggest a link between HPV and penile cancer and anal cancer in men who have sex with men, although most cases of warts won't cause these problems. Certain types of HPV infection in women are also associated with cervical cancer, so it's worth getting your warts treated for your partner's sake too. 
What are the main treatments?

Genital warts are treated according to size and location, and the options include:

  • Paints, such as podophyllin or a mild solution of trichloroacetic acid, applied directly on to the wart once or twice a week for as long as it takes.
  • Freezing with cryotherapy.
  • Burning with electrocautery.
  • Surgery to remove the tissue.

Treatments do not remove the virus, only the visible evidence, and the levels of recurrence are high. 

How can I help myself?
  • Don't leave the paints on for longer than directed, as this could damage tissue.
  • Keep the area clean and dry and don't use creams or perfumed products during treatment.
What's the outlook?

There's no cure for genital warts, and they often recur after treatment, but they are generally not dangerous to men.

 

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Date published 08/04/14
Date of last review 08/04/14
Date of next review 08/04/17

References

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