If you find warts on your genital area, like on the skin of your penis, outside or inside the vagina, anus, cervix or rectum, don't ignore them like you do your pimples. The presence of genital warts signals the presence of a sexually transmitted disease that�s generally caused by human papilloma virus (HPV). However, if you've this disease, you're not alone; there are over 20 million people currently afflicted with it and about 6.2 million get it each year in the US alone. And, at least 50% sexually active men and women can expect to become its victims at some point in their lives. (1)
There are more than 100 different strains of HPV. Of these, more than 30 are sexually transmitted. The 'low risk' types show mild Pap test abnormalities and cause genital warts. Other, more dreaded, 'high risk' types show abnormal Pap tests and can lead to cancer of the cervix, vulva, vagina, anus or penis.
The types of HPV that infect the genital area are spread primarily through genital contact. Most HPV infections have no signs or symptoms; therefore, most infected persons are unaware they are infected, yet they can transmit the virus to a sex partner. A pregnant woman can pass HPV to her baby during vaginal delivery, though it�s rare. A baby exposed to HPV can develop warts in the throat or the voice box, but this is rare too.
Symptoms of HPV
The worst part is mostly you don�t come to know if you�re infected. This is because the virus lives in the skin or mucous membranes and usually causes no symptoms. However, you can get visible symptoms in the form of genital warts or pre-cancerous changes in the penis, cervix, vulva or anus. Genital warts usually appear in the genital area as swellings, which may be soft, moist, pink or flesh-colored. These warts can be raised or flat or even cauliflower shaped! And they may be single or multiple, small or large. They usually appear within weeks or months after sexual contact with an infected person and what�s even more alarming is they may not appear at all! If they appear, they can be anywhere in the genital area, like the vulva, in or around the vagina or anus, on the cervix, on the penis, scrotum, groin or thigh. Want to see how they look like? Just have a look at the picture below.
Whereas, most women are diagnosed for HPV on the basis of abnormal Pap tests, no tests are available for men! A Pap test becomes doubly important for screening cervical cancer or pre-cancerous changes in the cervix, many of which are related to HPV. There�s a specific test, too, for detecting HPV DNA in women, which may be used with mild Pap test abnormalities. It may also be used in women above 30. The results of HPV DNA testing are indicators for further tests or treatments. If genital warts appear, they�re diagnosed by visual inspection.
The bad news is there�s no cure for HPV infection. If this infection doesn�t go away on its own, there are certain treatments that are directed to the HPV-induced changes in the skin or mucous membrane, such as warts and pre-cancerous changes in the cervix. Your physician will generally remove visible genital warts by medications or treatments. But it�s good to remember no treatment regimen is better than the other or is ideal for all.
Genital warts can drastically reduce the quality of your life, not to mention your sex life. So, if you do get saddled with it, don�t hesitate to approach your physician at the first instance. It can save you from a lot of hassle.