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Genital Warts (Human Papillomavirus) - What Happens

Based on the type of HPV, you may or may not have visible genital warts.

  • Common HPV types 6 and 11 produce visible warts. These warts may go away on their own, stay the same, or increase in number.
  • Other HPV types, such as 16 and 18, do not produce visible genital warts. These types, which may be found with a Pap test, are linked to precancerous cervical cell changes and cervical cancer.

HPV infection and cervical cell changes

In women, most precancerous or cancerous cell changes associated with HPV infection occur on the cervix. This is because the cells of the cervix naturally undergo changes in an area called the transformation zone. This process can cause cervical cells to become abnormal when they are infected with HPV.

Infection with high-risk types of HPV increase the chance that a woman with HPV will develop abnormal cervical cell changes. It is important to have regular exams by your doctor. If your doctor finds abnormal cells on a Pap test, the cells can be treated to help prevent them from changing to cancer.

HPV infection and anal and penile cancer

Among people who receive anal sex, HPV infection of the anal canal is associated with an increased risk of anal cancer. This risk may be especially high in men who also have HIV infection.1

It is not clear whether men who are infected with HPV on the penis are more likely to have precancerous or cancerous changes on the penis than men who are not infected. Because HPV does cause cell changes, more research is being done to find out whether HPV increases the risk of penile cancer. In the United States, cancer of the penis is extremely rare.

HPV infection during pregnancy

The presence of HPV and abnormal cell changes does not affect the outcome of the pregnancy. A pregnant woman who is infected with the type of HPV that causes genital warts may have more complicated warts than a woman who is not pregnant. Genital warts may increase in size, bleed, or become infected with bacteria. Your doctor may recommend treatment. Warts may be passed on to the newborn, but this is rare.

    WebMD Medical Reference from Healthwise

    Last Updated: June 04, 2014
    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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