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HPV/Genital Warts Health Center

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Genital Warts (Human Papillomavirus) - Topic Overview

This topic provides information about the human papillomavirus (HPV), which causes genital warts and can also cause cervical cancer. If you are looking for information about cervical cell changes or cervical cancer, see:

Human papillomavirus (HPV) is one of the most common sexually transmitted infections (STIs). It is a virus that can be spread through skin-to-skin genital contact. There are many different types of HPV. Some types cause genital warts and are called low-risk. And some types can lead to cervical, anal, or oral cancer and are called high-risk. There is no known cure for HPV, but there is a vaccine that can protect against some types of the virus.

Genital warts are skin growths in the groin, genital, or anal areas. They can be different sizes and shapes. Some look like flat white patches, and others are bumpy, like tiny bunches of cauliflower. Sometimes you can't see the warts at all.

HPV is a virus. Certain types of the virus cause genital warts and some types cause abnormal cervical cell changes and cervical cancer.

HPV and genital warts can be spread through sex or skin-to-skin genital contact with someone who has the virus.

Most people infected with HPV don't have symptoms. But if they do, the symptoms may be so mild that they may not know they are infected. The symptoms may include pain, itching, and bleeding, or you may develop visible genital warts.

If you have symptoms, they will probably occur 2 to 3 months after infection. But you can have symptoms from 3 weeks to many years after infection.

Visible genital warts appear only during active infection. But it is possible to spread the virus even if you can't see the warts.

A doctor can often tell if you have genital warts by looking closely at your genital and anal areas. He or she may ask you questions about your symptoms and your risk factors. Risk factors are things that make you more likely to get an infection.

Sometimes the doctor takes a sample of tissue from the wart for testing.

For women, if you have an abnormal Pap test, your doctor can do an HPV test that looks for high-risk types of the virus.

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WebMD Medical Reference from Healthwise

Last Updated: June 21, 2012
This information is not intended to replace the advice of a doctor. Healthwise disclaims any liability for the decisions you make based on this information.
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