Warts have always gotten a bad rap and with good reason. Warts are caused by a viral infection, specifically the human papillomavirus or HPV. And they are easily contagious. Having contact with the skin of an infected person can be all it takes to become infected yourself.
Sadly, warts don’t limit themselves to places like our fingers or toes. They can be sexually transmitted. Genital warts are the most easily recognized sign of a genital HPV infection. There are more than 70 different types of HPV. Several of those cause genital warts.
Genital warts are found on the penis, vulva, urethra, vagina, cervix and around and in the anus. (One thing to note, you cannot get genital warts from contact with warts on hands or other parts of the body.) In women, genital warts can also appear on the walls of the vagina and cervix.
How do you know if you have genital warts? Sometimes you can see them. Genital warts can be large and in clusters or have a cauliflower-like appearance to them. They can show up as small lesions on the skin and, at times, be red. Some warts however, are flat and nearly invisible.
A pelvic or rectal examination can help doctors locate genital warts that can’t be seen by the naked eye. By treating the tissue of the vagina and cervix with acetic acid, the warts become visible.
A Pap smear can also detect HPV infections. An HPV DNA test can identify the high-risk types of HPV that are known to cause cervical cancer. It can be done as a screening test for women over 30 or for women who have a slightly abnormal Pap test result.
How do you treat genital warts? Go to a doctor or health care provider. Do not use over-the-counter remedies meant for other kinds of warts.
Your doctor may treat genital warts by applying a skin treatment or by prescribing medicine for you to use at home. These include Imiquimod, Podophyllin, Podofilox and Trichloroacetic acid. There are also surgical treatments which include cryosurgery, electrocauterization, laser therapy and surgical excision.
Regardless of your treatment option, your doctor should schedule follow-up examinations to check if the warts have returned.