Genital warts are caused by the Human Papillomavirus (HPV). The virus can cause wart-like bumps to form in the genital areas. Genital warts are spread by skin to skin contact from one person to another during sex. Genital warts are the most common sexually transmitted disease in this country.

People who have had unprotected sex with more than two partners in their lifetime have probably been exposed to genital warts. Sometimes it takes months or years after exposure for genital warts to appear.

There are many types of genital warts and most are harmless, especially the external warts that you can see. There are a few types, classified as high risk, that can cause changes in the cells of the cervix that could lead to cancer. That is why it is important for women to have a PAP smear every year.

Not everyone who has the genital wart virus will have visible warts. Warts may appear as small growths or they may be flat and only slightly raised from the skin. They may be single or multiple, small or large. Genital warts are usually flesh-colored or whitish in appearance.

Currently there is no treatment to cure the HPV virus which causes genital warts. The virus lives in your body forever. Treating the warts may reduce the risk of transmission to a sexual partner.

There are several treatment options available for removing genital warts. When choosing the right treatment for you, your health care provider will consider the size, location and number of warts.

Genital warts treatments may include:

  • Cyrotherapy: freezing off the wart with liquid nitrogen
  • Podophyllin : using a chemical compound to get rid of the warts
  • TCA (trichloracetic acid): using a chemical compound that is applied to the surface of the warts.
  • Electrocautery: burning off warts with an electric current
  • Laser therapy: using an intense light to destroy warts (This is used for larger or extensive warts, especially those that have not responded well to other treatments. Laser can be very expensive and is not available in all doctor's offices.)

At home creams available by a doctor's prescription include imiquimod and podofilox. These treatments destroy the tissue of external genital warts. Over the counter wart treatments should not be used in the genital area because most contain strong chemicals that could be very irritating to the sensitive genital area.

It is best to see your doctor at the first sign of an outbreak of genital warts so that treatment can be initiated quickly. As with most health issues, early diagnosis and treatment greatly increase the chances of successful treatment for genital warts.

Glossary

Human Papillomavirus (HPV) The virus that causes genital warts
Cyrotherapy: A procedures which involves the use of nitrogen oxide to freeze external genital warts


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