Genital Warts

Genital warts appear as a single wart or cluster of warts in the genital area. These warts are usually flesh colored or a bit darker and may appear in small bumps scattered on the skin or in clusters. They may be rough or smooth, raised or flat, and may vary in size.

Cause

Genital warts are caused by infection with the Human Papillomavirus (HPV), which is transmitted through genital contact with an infected person during intercourse, oral sex or any genital-to-genital contact. Of the 100 or so types of HPV, just a few can cause genital warts.

HPV infection is the most common sexually transmitted disease affecting an estimated 50% of sexually active people. Most infected people do not know it and never develop warts because the immune system fights the virus effectively. Even without symptoms however, an infected person can still spread virus. Warts develop when the immune system is unable to fight HIV effectively, but they may not appear until weeks or months after contact with an infected person. Genital warts in children may be due to HIV infection passed from the mother during childbirth or may be a sign of sexual abuse.

Treatment

While some genital warts clear without treatment, seeing a dermatologist can provide faster clearing and peace of mind.

Professional Treatment

Seeing a dermatologist can provide faster clearing and peace of mind because professional treatment:

  • Lowers the risk of spreading the virus.
  • Can relieve any pain and itching.
  • Ensures that the growths are genital warts, not cancer.

Treatment usually involves removing the warts, prescription medications or other treatments depending on the number and location of the warts and your overall health.

Removal Procedures

Your dermatologist may perform one of these procedures to remove genital warts during an office visit:

  • Cryosurgery (freeze off the warts with liquid nitrogen).
  • Excision (cut out the warts).
  • Electrocautery (destroy the warts with an electric current).
  • Laser treatment (destroy the warts with laser light).

Medications

Often your dermatologist will prescribe medications you apply to the genital warts at home, including:

  • Podofilox for external warts (to stop the wart cells from growing).
  • Imiquimod (boosts the body’s immune system so it can fight HPV).
  • An ointment made of green tea extract (sinecatechins) for external warts and warts around the anus.

If these treatments are not effective in clearing the warts, your dermatologist may inject Interferon, an antiviral medication, into the warts. However, because of potential side effects, the doctor will make sure you understand the risks and possible benefits of this treatment.

Recurring Outbreaks

While treatment may remove visible warts, it may not eliminate the HIV infection and warts may return. In addition, as long as HIV is still present, there is the potential to spread the virus through sexual contact. Using condoms can reduce this risk.

Because some types of HPV cause cervical cancer, women who have been treated for genital warts should have regular PAP smears to detect early warning signs.

Though genital warts can be an embarrassing condition for some patients, seeking professional treatment can help protect your health and that of your sexual partner. At Dermatology and Skin Surgery, our board-certified dermatologists are dedicated to providing the best available treatments in a comfortable and confidential environment. Contact us for information or appointments.