Talking With Your Doctor About Genital Warts

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Doctor and male patient

If you have genital warts, or if you think you might, it's important to see your doctor. The warts are the result of infection from the human papillomavirus (HPV). The doctor can help you find the best way to treat the warts. Plus, you can find out how to keep from spreading HPV.

Genital warts are skin-colored bumps. They can have a smooth surface or look like small cauliflowers. They appear on your genitals or anus. You usually get them from sexual contact with a person infected with HPV.

HPV is very common. Have you ever gotten a wart on your finger? It was caused by HPV. Most people become infected at some point in life. HPV can also cause genital warts. Most of the time, the warts cause no further problems. 

Treating Genital Warts

If you have genital warts, the first thing you should ask your doctor is whether to treat them. Over time, genital warts usually go away on their own. Because of that, some people choose to not treat them.

However, they can grow in size or increase in number. They also may cause other symptoms. They can be uncomfortable. They might itch or burn. Ask whether the doctor thinks it would be best to treat your warts, and why.

If you decide to treat them, talk about the various ways the doctor could do this. Ask questions about the pros and cons so you can make the right choice. Options include:

  • Chemicals: Your doctor may apply the chemical during an office appointment. The chemical can dissolve the warts. Or, it might cause them to blister and fall off. These treatments may be painful.

  • Creams: The doctor may prescribe a medicine that you apply at home. The cream stimulates your own immune cells and helps the warts go away over time.

  • Surgery: There are several ways to remove genital warts with an operation. One method is to simply cut out the warts. Other options include freezing the warts or using electrical current or lasers to destroy them.

  • Antiviral medication: If other treatments fail, the doctor may suggest injecting the warts with a drug called interferon.

You should not try to treat the warts on your own. The genitals are a sensitive area of the body. Incorrect treatment can cause damage.

Preventing Genital Warts

Getting rid of your genital warts does not mean that the virus is gone from your body. The warts might return, and you still may spread HPV to others during sex. Be honest with sex partners regarding your condition. Use condoms during sex to keep from spreading HPV. Talk to your doctor about what else you should do.

If you have not had genital warts but are worried about getting them, you might want to get vaccinated. Vaccines can prevent HPV infections. Because of that, it's less likely that you would get genital warts or cancer related to HPV. If you did not get vaccinated when you were a child, you can still get the shots until age 26 ; women can receive the Gardasil 9 vaccine until age 45. If that's an option for you, talk to your doctor about the vaccine.

Genital Warts and Cancer Risk

If you have genital warts, you might be worried about getting cancer. That’s a normal fear because HPV infection can lead to some types of cancer. This includes cancer of the cervix, anus, vagina and penis, among other areas of the body.

However, there are many strains, or types, of HPV. Studies have shown that the strains that cause genital warts are not the same ones that cause cancer. Genital warts do not become cancerous. 

Keep in mind that you can become infected with more than one strain of HPV, some of which increase your risk of cancer. These are called “high-risk” HPV strains. Is there something you should do—or not do—to lower your risk of additional HPV infections? Ask your doctor this question, along with any others you have about HPV and cancer.

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Medical Reviewer: William C. Lloyd III, MD, FACS
Last Review Date: 2020 Oct 24
THIS TOOL DOES NOT PROVIDE MEDICAL ADVICE. It is intended for informational purposes only. It is not a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. Never ignore professional medical advice in seeking treatment because of something you have read on the site. If you think you may have a medical emergency, immediately call your doctor or dial 911.

  1. What You Should Know about Genital Warts. Am Fam Physician. 2004;70(12):2345-2346.

  2. Human papillomavirus. U.S. Department of Health and Human Service. Office on Women's Health. http://www.womenshealth.gov/publications/our-publications/fact-sheet/human-papillomavirus.html

  3. Genital Warts. American Academy of Dermatology. https://www.aad.org/public/diseases/contagious-skin-diseases/genital-warts

  4. HPV Vaccines. American Cancer Society. http://www.cancer.org/acs/groups/cid/documents/webcontent/002780-pdf.pdf

  5. Genital HPV Infection: Fact Sheet. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. http://www.cdc.gov/std/HPV/STDFact-HPV.htm
  6. FDA
    approves expanded use of Gardasil 9 to include individuals 27 through 45 years
    old. U.S. Food and Drug Administration.
    https://www.fda.gov/NewsEvents/Newsroom/PressAnnouncements/ucm622715.htm

Explore HPV and Genital Warts
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