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Genital Warts and the Human Papilloma Virus

Warts are dry, rough textured, bumps on the skin. You're probably familiar with warts that grow on fingers and toes. It is also possible to have genital warts. Genital warts are caused by the Human Papilloma Virus (HPV). It is possible to be infected with HPV and not get warts.

As their name implies, genital warts appear in the genital region, on or around the penis, vagina or anus. In men, warts can often be found near the anus, on the penis, or even inside the penis. When warts form inside the penis they may cause blood or puss in the urine or semen. In women, warts are often found on the cervix (which is the opening between the vagina and the uterus located inside the vagina, out of visible site to all but a doctor). Doctors must do a pelvic exam in order to visualize such cervical warts.

The HPV virus can cause warts to form in the anal region even when a person has not engaged in anal sex. Symptoms of anal warts, which include itching, bumps, or occasional bleeding around the anus, are mild and may be mistaken for hemorrhoids. A doctor may have to use an anoscope (a tool used to look into the anal canal) to visualize the warts.

Though genital warts do not cause problems in and of themselves, they are associated with increased vulnerability to various types of cancers. In women, genital warts are associated with cervical cancer. Warts located in the anal region (the opening of the buttocks), are associated with anal cancer. Because of the association between genital warts and cancer, it is important that people who have genital warts, or who have had sex with someone who has genital warts, or who has tested HPV positive, see their doctor. Doctors may recommend more frequent future checkups and pelvic examinations for patients who have genital warts.

When a doctor discovers genital warts during a pelvic exam, they will typically do a pap smear test to look for cancerous cells in the cervix. Another procedure called a colposcopy, in which a small tissue sample from the cervix is removed for testing, may also be performed.

Warts that form on the outside the body can be treated with "cryotherapy"; a procedure in which liquid nitrogen (a very very cold chemical) is used to freeze and thus destroy the wart. External warts are also sometimes treated with cream medication, surgery (slicing them off), or burning them off the body.

Genital wart removal should only be attempted by a doctor! It is a bad idea to use over-the-counter (OTC) wart medications to treat warts on or around the penis, anus, or vagina, as these areas are quite a bit more tender and sensitive than the skin on other parts of the body. In fact, OTC wart removal medications can do a great deal of harm to a person who uses them to try to remove genital warts.

Importantly, removing the warts does not get rid of the virus that causes them. There is no medical treatment to get rid of the virus that causes warts. Even when the warts are removed, it is possible to pass on the virus to another person during sexual contact. To decrease the chances of passing on the virus, condoms should be used during sexual activity.

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