Genital warts are small fleshy growths of skin on or near the sexual organs that are caused by the human papillomavirus and are usually spread by sexual contact.
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Human papillomavirus (HPV)
Sexually transmitted diseases
What Are Genital Warts?
Genital warts may be dome shaped or nearly flat, but most commonly they grow on stalks in clumps that look like small heads of cauliflower. Warts of this shape are called condylomata acuminata (kon-dil-o-MAT-a a-koo-min-NAT-a). Genital warts usually cause no pain, but they can be very upsetting to have.
Human papillomavirus (HPV)
The human papillomavirus (pap-iLO-ma vi-rus) is common and has many subtypes. Genital warts usually are caused by HPV-6 or HPV-11. Many people may become infected with HPV at some point during their lives but not know it because they do not get visible warts. Among sexually active people in the United States, about 1 percent (1.4 million people) have genital warts and another 14 percent (19 million) have HPV infection without warts.
Other kinds of HPV (mainly HPV-16 or HPV-18) can cause cancer of the cervix, part of the female reproductive tract. Even though visible genital warts usually do not contain cancer-causing forms of the virus, women who have warts should be sure to get the yearly test for cervical cancer, called the Pap test, that is recommended for all women.
Removing genital warts
Genital warts can be removed in a number of ways—by surgery, laser * treatment, freezing (cryotherapy), or repeated treatment with chemicals that the doctor paints directly on the warts. They often recur after being removed. If untreated, they may grow, remain the same, or disappear on their own.
Preventing genital warts
The surest protection is sexual abstinence, that is, not having sex at all. Those who have sex with multiple partners have a higher chance of getting infected (though all it takes is having sex with one partner with an HPV infection to become infected). It is not known for certain whether using condoms protects against HPV, or whether getting rid of visible warts makes a person's infection less contagious.
* laser surgery uses a very narrow and intense beam of light that can destroy body tissue.
The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has a National
STD Hotline that is open from 8 AM to 11 PM EST.
The U.S. National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases posts a
fact sheet about human papillomavirus and genital warts at its website.
The American Social Health Association has an HPV Support Program and
HPV Questions and Answers
fact sheet at its website. Its Sexually Transmitted Diseases
Information and Referral Center has a hotline that takes calls from 9 AM
to 7 PM EST.
The American Cancer Society posts a fact sheet about cervical cancer and
human papillomavirus at its website.