Warts are a common skin condition resulting from infection by one or another strain of human papillomavirus (HPV). There are several types of warts that can affect individuals of any age, but some types are more commonly found in children and some more often found in adults. Many types of warts, especially those usually found on children, disappear on their own. When troublesome, warts can be treated with medications or otherwise removed.

Patients with weakened immune systems, such as those with HIV or other immune disorder or those who have had organ transplants, are particularly susceptible to warts. Since warts are contagious through direct skin contact, strict personal hygiene can help to prevent their spread. This includes avoidance of shared personal items, such as towels or razors.

Warts appear as small skin growths, flat or slightly raised, on the surface of the skin. They can vary in coloration. Usually warts can be diagnosed by a simple medical examination, but occasionally a biopsy may be necessary to distinguish them from particular kinds of skin cancer. Different types of warts appear on different parts of the body and vary in appearance. Some of the most common varieties of warts are:

  • Common warts, which usually appear on the fingers or toes
  • Flat warts, common on face, arms or legs
  • Plantar warts, which grow on the soles of the feet
  • Filiform warts, which grow on the face or neck
  • Periungual warts, which grow around or under toenails and fingernails

While most varieties of warts are benign, they may be itchy, painful or embarrassing. Most can be treated through the application of medications like salicylic acid or cantharidin or through cryotherapy, a process of freezing with liquid nitrogen. In especially resistant instances, warts may require laser surgery or surgical excision with a scalpel. In most cases, treatment is permanent and warts do not return.

Frequently Asked Questions about Genital Warts


Q: Can genital warts be cured?

A:  As of 2018, no available cure for genital warts exists, but the HPV/warts can spontaneously resolve.  Should common warts or genital warts develop, seek medical care immediately as they are highly infectious.  The more you have the more prolonged, invasive and arduous the treatment.  The true goal of treatment is make the virus quiescent.

Q: What role does the genital wart vaccine play?

A: The vaccine prevents genital wart if given at age 12 and is approved to age 25, but once you have rubbed against someone in a moment of intimacy you will likely get infected with HPV.  The virus is usually dormant and only 1 in 20 or 1 in 40 people infected with HPV will actually develop warts.

Q: How long does it take for genital warts to appear?

A:  Warts seem to appear spontaneously.  Diagnosing and treating them early is the key to successful treatment.

Q: How do you know if you have genital warts?

A: Genital warts generally manifest similarly in men and women. They appear as rough verrucous soft papules. In men, warts normally appear on the penis, scrotum and anus. In women, they mostly appear on the vulva, vagina but can appear on the anus also. 

Q: How can you remove genital warts at home?

A: There are many topical home remedies you can try to help treat genital warts, these do not generally cure genital warts and simply induce irritation in the area.

Q:  Should I shave my genital?

A: No. Shaving leads to spreading of the virus.  If you need to cut your hair, get a good pair of scissors and cut down the hair. Trauma to the follicles with buzzers and razors leads to spreading of the wart virus and spreading more warts.

Q: What lesions can mimic genital warts?

A: A variety of lesions can mimic genital warts including molluscum contagiosum, which is caused by a pox virus.  They appear as round lesions, sometimes with a central umbilication.  These can also be destroyed by treatment and spread further if left untreated.  Molluscum contagiosum does not cause cancer. 

Some infections such as pustules which are a low grade form of infection, shaving bumps, sebaceous hyperplasia (normal yellow glands in the area) seborrheic keratosis (lesion that occurs with age but rarely occurs in the groin) Bowenoid papulosis (a low grade form of cancer that is caused by HPV 16 and 18).  A visit is the best way to distinguish between these types of lesions. Inflammatory disease like lichen nitidus, lichen planus can mimic genital warts.  Growths such as cysts, moles, seborrheic keratosis, idiopathic calcinosis cutis of the scrotum and sebaceous hyperplasia.  A biopsy can be performed in the diagnosis if not clear.

Q: How common are genital warts?

A:  80% of patients have had an infection with HPV at one time or another but in the age group between 20 and 50 the prevalence of infection is 40-50%, and the incidence of warts is 1-2%.  What this means is that 1 in 40 people infected can manifest with a wart, so while one person might be infected with HPV and have a wart, their partner might be infected with HPV and not have a wart.

Q: What colors are genital warts?

A: Genital warts manifest with flesh-colored, pink or red papules. Larger warts can have a broccoli or cauliflower-like texture. Warts tend to spread in a linear or radiating pattern as they extend beyond the wart.

Q: Can genital warts cause cancer?

A: HPV strain 16 and 18 can cause cancer.  The types include cervical, anal and penile cancer.  If oral sex deposits HPV 16 or 18 in the throat, oral cancer can occur.  A low grade form of cancer called Bowenoid papulosis can mimic warts.  Luckily, most genital warts are caused by HPV 6 and 11 which do not cause cancer. 

Q: Can genital warts recur after treatment?

A: While areas of genital warts are treated, it is possible that they might recur in that location, and in other areas. 

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