Condyloma acuminatum, or genital warts, are soft growths that occur on or around your genitals. Genital warts are a classified as a sexually transmitted disease because they are passed from person to person through skin-on-skin contact.
About forty million Americans are infected with genital warts. Genital warts are most commonly found in men and women between 20 and 24 years of age.
You may not always be able to see genital warts. They may be very small and flesh-colored, or slightly darker than your skin. The top of these genital growths may resemble a cauliflower and can either feel smooth or slightly bumpy to the touch. Genital warts can appear in a variety of areas, including your mouth, tongue, lips or throat. These warts occur after oral sexual contact with an infected person.
On males, genital warts appear on the following body parts:
- Anus (either inside or around the anus)
Genital warts on females appear at the following places:
- Anus (inside or outside)
- Vagina (inside or outside)
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Genital warts is closely related to the virus known as human papillomavirus infection or HPV, is a type of disease that causes warts to occur in various parts of the body. HPV spread through sexual contact and can’t be cured. About five and a half million cases of HPV are diagnosed in the United States each year. There are more than 100 types of HPV. About 40 of those types specifically affect the genital area. HPV is one of the most common STDs in the world and is known to lead to cervical cancer. HPV has been found in the genital tract of 85% of women with cervical cancer. Over half of women infected with HPV don’t show any symptoms.
Your doctor will ask you questions about your symptoms, your health, and sexual history. You will be required to recall any times you have engaged in unprotected sex, including oral sex. Physically examine any areas where you suspect warts may be occurring. Since warts can be deep inside a woman’s body, if you are female your doctor may need to perform a pelvic examination. Your doctor may apply a mildly acidic solution to your warts, which helps to make warts more visible. A pap smear may also be taken to test cells from your cervix for the presence of HPV. If you are worried that you have a form of HPV known to cause cervical cancer, your doctor can perform a DNA test that determines what strain of HPV you have in your system. Since certain types of HPV that cause genital warts are known to also cause precancerous changes in the cervix and cervical cancer, if you are a woman you may need to have a pap smear every three or six months after your initial treatment to monitor any changes in your cervix.
Abstinence is the only way to prevent genital warts. Even condoms do not guarantee your protection against genital warts because the infected person’s skin will undoubtedly touch the skin of the person they are sexually intimate with.
Condoms: Using condoms every time you have sex can reduce your risk of contracting genital warts, but it will not eliminate the risk of infection.
Gardasil, a relatively new HPV vaccine can protect men and women from the four most common HPV strains that lead to genital warts and cervical cancer.
Visible genital warts often go away over time, but once the virus enters your bloodstream, it cannot be cured. You may have several outbreaks of genital warts over the course of your life. Managing your symptoms is very important. Genital warts can be passed onto other even when there aren’t any visible symptoms. Over-the-counter wart removers and treatments do not get rid of genital warts; your physician has to give you a prescription to combat your genital warts symptoms. Topical wart treatments that your doctor may prescribe are:
- Aldara (imiquimod)
- Condylox (podophyllin and podofilox)
- TCA (trichloroacetic acid)
If your visible warts do not go away over time, you may require surgery to remove them.
There are two types of surgery used to combat genital warts.
- Excision: Visible genital warts present on the penis or vagina, or around the anus are removed by a surgeon, who cuts them off of you using a scalpel. Internal warts found on the cervix may be removed by laser, or by a procedure known as loop electrosurgical excision.
- Laser Surgery: This is done in a doctor’s office when a physician uses a laser to destroy your genital warts. Local or general anesthetic may be used, depending on how many warts you have or the size of the area needing treatment.
Treating genital warts does not cure your HPV. Even if you are treated for your genital warts, you can still spread this infection to other people. Discuss the benefits and effectiveness of each type of treatment with your physician. Together, you can make the right treatment plan for your genital warts.