HPV/Genital Warts

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HPV is the most common STD and at least 50% of sexually active people will get it at some time in their lives. The body usually clears HPV on its own without causing any problems, but HPV can lead to certain kinds of cancer.

Symptom Overview

Human Papillomavirus (HPV) is a collection of more than 100 different types of viruses. HPV can cause warts on the hands, feet or genitals. High-risk strains of HPV can lead to cancer of the genitals, anus, mouth, and upper respiratory tract.

Genital warts can be found on the inside or outside of the vagina, the inside or outside of the anus, and around the vulva, the scrotum, the penis or the groin. While genital warts will often go away within a few months they may initially appear:

  • Red or white
  • Flat or raised
  • In singles or multiples
  • Small or large


About 14 million people get it each year, and at least 75% of sexually active men and women get it at some point in their lives. Most people fight off the virus on their own, but about 1% of all HPV-infected people develop genital warts. An even smaller number of women with HPV – about 12,000 women each year – develop cervical cancer if the HPV is untreated. HPV is also linked to other rare cancers of the penis, vulva, vagina, and anus.


HPV and genital warts are spread through skin-to-skin contact. You do not need to have sex to get them. Just rubbing against someone’s groin that has HPV can lead to infection. To reduce risk of transmission:

  • Get vaccinated with Gardasil (both men and women) or Cervarix (only women). – Use a condom to reduce your risk.


HPV infection of the cervix can be diagnosed during a pelvic exam. However, there are no HPV tests for men. Genital warts on men and women are normally diagnosed by visual appearance alone.


Cervical HPV infection should be treated by a specialist, and may include surgical treatment of the cervix to remove the infected areas. Genital warts are treated with products which burn, freeze, or otherwise destroy the wart tissue (such as liquid nitrogen or trichloroacetic acid), or with medications that help the body’s own immune system destroy the wart (such as imiquimod).

Living with It

HPV infection of the cervix can be serious, so this should be managed in consultation with a specialist. Genital warts, on the other hand, are unsightly but not dangerous. Even after treatment, warts can recur because the virus remains dormant in the underlying skin. Consistent and correct condom use can reduce the likelihood of spreading HPV to sex partners.

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