Genital warts are a taboo subject for many folks to discuss, but that doesn’t make them go away if you happen to be living with them. There’s no shame behind them; they’re like any other wart in the sense that they are caused by human papillomavirus (HPV) strains, of which there are over 100 different kinds. The primary difference is that genital warts are the result of unprotected sexual contact with a partner who has the virus in their system, though cases can occur as a result of protected sex as well.
HPV is one of the most common sexually transmitted diseases in North America by far. Most private parts of the male and female bodies are susceptible to genital warts, so it’s best to be proactive about your relationships and keep sexual partners to a minimum in order to minimize the risk. In fact, by developing a long-term relationship with that special someone, and if they don’t carry an HPV strain that causes genital warts, there is essentially zero risk. The only exception is in cases such as using public facilities such as pools, changing rooms, showers and the like.
What are genital warts?
Genital warts are one of the most commonly transmitted infections through sexual activity, affecting the skin of the vagina, the penis and the anus. Similar to all other types of warts, genital warts are caused by the HPV virus, some present risk and some do not. There are 40 different HPV types associated with genital warts, however 6 and 11 account for roughly 90% of genital warts and are not harmful. Higher risk types include: 16 and 18, which together account for about 70% of all invasive cervical cancers.
How do I know I have them?
- Skin coloured or whitish bumps
- They can appear like small pieces of cauliflower
- You can have a bunch of them or only one
- Size can very: big or small
- Limited pain
The most common locations for genital warts:
How do you get them?
Like all types, genital warts are caused by the human papillomavirus (HPV) virus, with over 40 types leading to infection. The primary method of transmission is through sexual contact.
How are they diagnosed?
In the case of genital warts, they are best diagnosed by your GP or a Nurse Practitioner. They will be able to confirm whether they are indeed genital warts and will be able to recommend a course of action. A sample of cervical cells, taken during a Pap test, can be tested to assess which (if any) HPV strains are present and if they are potentially concerning.
What treatment options are available?
If your genital warts aren’t causing discomfort, you may not need treatment. However, if symptoms include itching, burning and pain, or if your warts are causing you distress, your physician may suggest medical or destructive therapy. Keep in mind that the lesions are likely to come back after treatment as there is no effective treatment for the HPV Virus. Immune therapies are currently being assessed, however not yet available in the United States. You should not treat genital warts with over-the-counter wart removers.
Medication treatments include Imiquimod, Podophyllin and podofilox, Trichloroacetic acid (TCA) and Sinecatechins (Veregen). These treatments involve strict indications and carry potentially serious side effects. Very important that treatments are physician guided.
Destructive therapies include cryotherapy, surgical excision or laser. Freezing with liquid nitrogen (cryotherapy). Freezing works by causing a blister to form around your wart. As your skin heals, the lesions slough off, allowing new skin to appear. You may need repeated cryotherapy treatments. The main side effects include pain and swelling.
Electrocautery. This procedure uses an electrical current to burn off warts. You may have some pain and swelling after the procedure.
Surgical excision. Your doctor may use special tools to cut off warts. You’ll need local or general anesthesia for this treatment, and you may have some pain afterward.
Laser treatments. This approach, which uses an intense beam of light, can be expensive and is usually reserved for very extensive and tough-to-treat warts. Side effects can include scarring and pain.
What is the most effective treatment method?
At this stage, no single treatment or therapy is ideally suited to all patients. Treatment should be tailored to your needs, anatomical presentation and personal preference.
What should I do next?
If you think you have genital warts, we advise that you start by consulting with your GP or Nurse Practitioner. Initial assessments will guide the rest of the process.
Will genital warts disappear on their own?
In most cases they will, generally within a three-month period but sometimes longer. Some folks who are infected might not develop visible signs in the form of warts, so getting tested is always best if you’re unsure. If you’re having trouble with genital warts and they aren’t going away even after several months, reach out to your practitioner for further guidance and consider whether expert removal is the best course of action. Solutions such as the Swift system are ideal for minimizing the risk of HPV transmission while also delivering safe and effective wart elimination.
Are genital warts dangerous?
Unlike most other warts, genital warts can pose a significant health risk if left untreated, but it’s not always a guarantee. The strains of HPV associated with genital warts are classified as “high risk,” meaning they can increase your risk of developing a form of genital cancer. This can include cervical, rectal, and penile cancers that are difficult to treat. Even should you have your genital warts professionally removed, the high-risk strain will still be hosted by your body and annual cancer screenings are critical. Vaccines such as Gardasil and Cervarix are ideal for reducing the risk of contracting such strains in the first place. Be sure to discuss with your practitioner to determine the best approach.