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HPV and genital warts

 

  1. BASHH, 2015. UK National Guidelines on the Management of Anogenital Warts 2015.
  2. The Family Planning Association (FPA), 2014. Genital warts, www.fpa.org.uk/sexually-transmitted-infections-stis-help/genital-warts> [Last accessed: May 2017]
  3. NHS Choices, 2014. Genital warts – Treatment, www.nhs.uk/Conditions/Genital_warts/Pages/Treatment.aspx> [Last accessed: May 2017]

 

 

Genital warts are a common sexually transmitted infection caused by human papillomavirus (HPV). Genital warts can be treated. 

We also have information on:

What are genital warts?

Genital warts are small growths on the skin. They can be small, single warts, which may look like a change or different colour on the skin. Or they sometimes appear in small clusters of several warts, which looks like a small cauliflower. 

Both women and men can be affected by genital warts. In women, they can affect the skin of the:

  • upper thighs or skin around the genital area
  • vulva, which is the external genital area that includes the labia and the clitoris
  • vagina
  • cervix 
  • anus, around the opening and inside.

In men, genital warts can affect the skin of the: 

  • upper thighs or skin around the genital area
  • penis, outside and inside the urethra, which is where urine comes out
  • scrotum, which is the skin covering testicles
  • anus, around the opening and inside.

Genital warts should not cause any pain or serious problems. But they can be unpleasant and may upset or worry people. If the warts affect the skin around the penis, vagina or anus, they sometimes cause bleeding in that area. 

If you think that you have genital warts, it is important to visit your GP, local sexual health clinic or GUM clinic. They will be able to diagnose and treat the infection. For information on how to access sexual health services near you, visit:

How do people get genital warts?

Genital warts are caused by HPV. HPV is a common virus that is passed on through skin-to-skin contact, including:

  • vaginal sex
  • anal sex
  • oral sex

Although less likely, HPV can also be passed on by:

  • touching in the genital area
  • sharing sex toys. 

The type of HPV that causes genital warts is called low-risk HPV. This means that the HPV sometimes causes unpleasant but harmless conditions, like genital warts, but nothing more serious. Low-risk HPV is not linked to cancer. 

Read about HPV >

Treating genital warts 

Genital warts are usually treated in 2 different ways:

Creams and liquids

Sometimes a cream or liquid is applied directly to the warts to help get rid of it. This is also called topical treatment. 

There are several types of topical treatments. These attack the cells of the warts, or encourage your immune system to recognise and attack the warts. Topical treatments are usually given for softer warts. 

Removing the warts 

Warts can be destroyed or removed by:

  • freezing them (cryotherapy) 
  • removing them with surgery (physical ablation).

Sometimes both types of treatment are used one after the other. People may need several rounds of treatment to get rid of genital warts completely.

Pregnancy and genital warts

If you are pregnant and have a history of genital warts, it is important to let your midwife know. During pregnancy, warts may get bigger or there may be more of them. Any warts are usually treated with cryotherapy.

There is a small risk of passing on the infection during a vaginal birth, but this is rare. If the infection is passed on, the warts usually appear in the child’s mouth. They are treated with cream or by removing them. Your doctor or midwife can give you more information.

Very rarely, large genital warts may appear on the cervix or block the birth canal. If this happens, the doctor may suggest a C-section (Caesarean delivery) but this is rare. 

Genital warts FAQs

No. Cervical cancer is usually caused by different types of HPV, called high-risk HPV. The HPV types that cause genital warts are called low risk because they are not linked to cancer. 

Read more about HPV >

 

The HPV vaccine given is schools and privately protects against HPV 6 and 11, which cause about 9 in 10 cases of genital warts. 

Read more about the HPV vaccine >

Genital warts are caused by HPV. You can’t fully protect against HPV because it lives on the skin. But there are some ways to reduce your risk of getting HPV, including:

  • having the HPV vaccine, which protects against 9 in 10 cases of genital warts
  • having safer sex, using a condom or dental dam – although this doesn’t fully protect you, as it only covers part of the skin.

Read more about HPV >

More information about genital warts

If you have or are worried about genital warts, it is best talk to your GP or healthcare professional. They will be able to give you the right care and support. 

Other useful organisations

These organisations also have information about genital warts that you may find helpful.

NHS Choices

Provides information about a wide range of health conditions. 

Read more about genital warts from NHS Choices >

British Association for Sexual Health and HIV

Provides information about sexually transmitted infections for the general public and professionals. 

Read more about genital warts from BASHH >

Thank you to all the experts who checked the accuracy of this information, and the volunteers who shared their personal experience to help us develop it. 

References

 

  • UK National Guidelines on the Management of Anogenital Warts 2015. British Association for Sexual Health and HIV. April 2015. Accessed January 2020.
  • Yanofsky VR. et al. Genital warts: A comprehensive review. The Journal of Clinical and Aesthetic Dermatology. June 2012.
  • Manhart LE. and Koutsky LA. Do Condoms Prevent Genital HPV Infection, External Genital Warts, or Cervical Neoplasia?: A Meta-Analysis. Sexually Transmitted Diseases. November 2002.

We write our information based on literature searches and expert review. For more information about the references we used, please contact [email protected]

Read more about how we research and write our information >

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Date last updated: 
17 Jan 2020
Date due for review: 
17 Jan 2022
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