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Genital Warts and HPV

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Genital Wart Testing

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.
  • Examination of the rectum

 

Female patients may be referred to a gynecologist (a doctor who specializes in female reproductive health) for further testing and biopsy.

Genital Wart Treatment

Unfortunately, no treatment can kill the HPV virus that causes the genital warts. Your doctor can remove the warts with laser therapy or by freezing or applying chemicals. Some prescription treatments are available for at home-use. Surgery may be necessary for genital warts that are large or difficult to treat. Still, recurrence remains a problem. You may need to return to your doctor for more treatment.

What Should I Do While I Have the Warts?

If you have genital warts:

  • Keep the area as dry as possible.
  • Wear all-cotton underwear. Man-made fabrics can irritate the area and trap moisture.

What Happens If I Don't Get Treated?

Unfortunately, despite treatment, having high-risk HPV can increase your risk of cervical, rectal, and penile cancer. But not all forms of the virus are associated with these cancers. If you have genital warts, it is important to get annual check-ups to screen for cancer.

HPV and Genital Wart Prevention

Your best bet at preventing HPV infection and genital warts is to abstain from sex or limit sexual contact to one uninfected person. If that is not an option, condoms may provide some protection, but condoms are not 100% effective, because they do not cover the entire penis or surrounding areas.

There are two vaccines approved to protect against HPV. Gardasil protects against infection from four strains of the HPV virus and offers modest protection against genital warts.Two of these strains, HPV-16 and HPV-18, account for about 70% of cervical cancers. The other two strains covered by the vaccine, HPV- 6 and HPV-11, account for about 90% of genital warts. The vaccine is approved for 9- to 26-year-old females and males. 

Cervarix also protects against HPV-16 and HPV-18.

These vaccines do not treat pre-existing conditions.

WebMD Medical Reference

Reviewed by Nivin Todd, MD, FACOG on May 26, 2014
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