Genital Warts

Dermatology A to Z


Genital Warts

Genital warts are caused by a virus named human papillomavirus (HPV). It is acquired through sexual contact. Warts caused by HPV can occur in the mouth, around the rectum, and on the penis or vagina. You can contract the virus years before any visible warts are seen, so it is very difficult to identify when, where, or from whom the genital warts came.

Human papillomavirus is a family of viruses that include over 50 individual viruses. This is important to know because, of these 50, four are linked to the development of cervical cancer. These four can also be found in skin cancers of the genital skin in both men and women. For these reasons, regular monitoring of the genital area is recommended if you have a history of genital warts or have a known exposure to someone with genital warts. Remember, warts may appear years after initial exposure. In addition, Gardisil is a vaccine that is effective against the 4 viruses that cause cervical cancer. I recommend that all young women get vaccinated it could save your life.

Today, we have many different treatment options, though most are direct destruction of the wart itself. The warts can be destroyed through surgical removal, freezing with liquid nitrogen (cryosurgery), burning with an electric current (electrosurgery), or vaporizing with a laser. All destructive options work well though all may need to be repeated more than once. In addition, they can leave you sore for several days following the procedure.

Several topical home treatments are available that can work quite nicely, especially for early, smaller warts. Condylox gel, Veregen, and Aldara are prescription medications that are approved for treatment of genital warts. They are applied at home and are used between 4 and 12 weeks. The benefit of the home treatments is that when new warts are discovered, you can begin treatment before the warts get out of hand.

Unfortunately, there is no cure for HPV. Once you have contracted the virus, it incorporates itself into your own skin cells. These cells look and act normal until the virus decides it is time to make a wart. It is for this reason, regular checkups are recommended.