Genital Warts

Similar to those that appear on other parts of the body, genital warts may be flat or raised, single or clustered. However, they are much more contagious, spreading easily through sexual contact, and developing within two or three months after sexual relations with an infected person. The causative agents are several papilloma viruses, which come from the same virus family that causes other types. In women, genital warts occur on the vulva and cervix, in the vagina, and on or near the anus. Sometimes vaginal and cervical warts are so small that they go unnoticed, thus increasing the risk of infecting a partner. In men, the warts most often occur on the penis, but also sometimes in the anal area, on the scrotum, or inside the urethra. More than 40 million Americans have had genital warts, and about one mil­lion new cases are diagnosed each year. These numbers are of concern because genital warts appear to increase the risk of vulvar and cervical cancer.


Diagnostic Studies And Procedures

Sometimes the patient or a sexual partner first notices genital warts. But more often, because they can be miniscule and usually do not cause obvious symptoms, the warts are diagnosed by a physician during a routine physical or gynecologic examination. The doctor may use a magnifying device, such as a colposcope, to examine the warts. She may also order a blood test to differen­tiate the warts from the skin lesions caused by syphilis. Warts with an unusual appearance and those that persist despite treatment should be biopsied to rule out cancer. If a woman has warts on the cervix, a pap smear and perhaps a biopsy of cervical tissue should be done to check for precancerous changes in the cells. In addition, any woman who has ever had genital warts should have more frequent pap smears as often as every three to six months because of her increased risk of cervical cancer.

Other Causes of Genital Growths

Genital herpes can produce a reddish lesion that may resemble a wart, but, unlike most warts, it is usually quite painful. Vulvar cysts and cancer may begin as wart like growths.

Medical Treatments

Single warts or small groups of warts can sometimes be removed with caustic chemicals, such as podophyllin, wartrol and trichloroacetic acid. This approach often requires several applications and is not always successful. In another tech­nique, cryosurgery, the warts are frozen off with liquid nitrogen. This treatment may cause temporary blistering of the surrounding tissue. Yet another method is cauterization, in which an electric needle is used to burn off the warts after applying a local anesthetic. Warts in the urethra may be treated with a topical medication several times a day, but this presents a slight chance of urethral obstruction. Removing these warts under general anesthesia may be the most definitive method. In uncir­cumcised men, performing a circum­cision during the same operation may prevent urethral warts from recurring. Laser surgery, a method of applying a strong light beam to vaporize small amounts of tissue, is being used against genital warts with increasing frequency. With all treatments, the warts often come back and require more therapy.

Alternative Therapies

Although numerous folk remedies are said to remove ordinary warts, none appear to clear up genital warts.

Self Treatment

Never attempt to remove genital warts with nonprescription wart preparations, they are ineffective against these types, and can damage genital tissue. After chemical removal of genital warts, you will be instructed to wash off the caustic medication after a spe­cific time. Until the warts fall off, wear loose-fitting cotton underwear and keep the skin clean and dry. Avoid sex­ual activity until healing is complete. If you have warts, your sexual part­ner should see a doctor. Because of the high recurrence rate, it is important to use a condom during sexual intercourse to avoid reinfection.