Genital warts

Genital Warts |

Genital warts

Certain types of human papillomavirus (HPV) cause genital warts. The types of HPV that cause genital warts are usually spread by direct skin-to-skin contact during vaginal, anal, or possibly oral sex with someone who has this infection.

In females, warts may appear around the vulva (entire outer female genital area), in or around the vagina, in or around the anus, the groin (where the genital area meets the inner thigh),or the cervix (although this is less common than external warts). In males, warts may appear on the penis, scrotum (balls), in or around the anus, or the groin area.

Genital warts appear as growths or bumps. Warts may be raised or flat, single or multiple, small or large. They tend to be flesh-colored or whitish in appearance. Warts usually do not cause itching, burning, or pain. However, most HPV infections will not lead to visible warts and most people will not know they have the virus.

FAQs about Genital Warts

Warts may appear within several weeks after sex with someone who has the wart-types of HPV, or it may take several months or years to appear. Or, warts may never appear. This makes it hard to know exactly when or from whom someone got the virus.

Genital warts may or may not return after the first episode. Some people only have one episode of warts, while others have recurrences (when warts reappear). When warts are present, the virus is considered active.

When warts are gone, the virus is latent (sleeping) in the skin cells – it may or may not be contagious at this time.

A healthy immune system is usually able to clear the virus, or suppress it, over time.

How are warts transmitted?The types of HPV that cause genital warts are usually spread by direct skin-to-skin contact during vaginal, anal, or possibly oral sex with someone who has this infection. Any person who is sexually active can get genital warts.

HPV may be more ly transmitted when warts are present, but the virus can be transmitted even when there are no visible symptoms.

The types of HPV that cause genital warts are usually different from those causing warts on other body parts, such as the hands. People do not get genital warts by touching warts on their hands or feet.

Warts are not commonly found in the mouth, so some experts believe that transmission through oral sex is not as ly as with genital-to-genital or genital-to-anal contact.

If someone thinks he or she has warts or have been exposed to HPV, they should go to a healthcare provider or clinic. A provider will check more closely and may use a magnifying lens to find smaller warts. Sometimes, warts can be very hard to see. Also, it can be hard to tell the difference between a wart and normal bumps on the genital area.

To look for warts or other abnormal tissue, a healthcare provider may put acetic acid (vinegar) on the genitals. This causes warts to turn white and makes them easier to see, especially if they are viewed through a magnifying lens such as a colposcope. However, the vinegar can sometimes cause other normal bumps to be highlighted, so this method of diagnosis can be misleading.

A biopsy is not necessary for diagnosing genital warts. This is only done if the bump is unusual looking or discolored.

HPV DNA tests are only approved for use with women as part of cervical cancer screening and, and are not used to diagnosed warts. These are no blood tests clinically available to diagnose a person for HPV.

While there is no medical cure for HPV, there are several treatment options available for genital warts. The goal of any treatment should be to remove visible warts to get rid of annoying symptoms. Treating the warts may possibly help reduce the risk of transmission to a partner who may have never been exposed to the wart-types of HPV.

When choosing what treatment to use, the healthcare provider will consider the size, location and number of warts, changes in the warts, patient preference, cost of treatment, convenience, adverse effects, and their own experience with the treatments. No one treatment is best for all cases. Some treatments are done in a clinic or doctor’s office; others are prescription creams that can be used at home for many weeks.

Treatments done in the doctor’s office include:

  • Cryotherapy (freezing off the wart with liquid nitrogen). This can be relatively inexpensive, but must be done by a trained healthcare provider.
  • Podophyllin (a chemical compound that must be applied by a healthcare provider). This is an older treatment and is not as widely used today.
  • TCA (trichloracetic acid) is another chemical applied to the surface of the wart by a healthcare provider.
  • Cutting off warts. This has the advantage of getting rid of warts in a single office visit.
  • Electrocautery (burning off warts with an electrical current)
  • Laser therapy (using an intense light to destroy warts).This is used for larger or extensive warts, especially those that have not responded well to other treatments. Laser can also cost a lot of money. Most healthcare provider do not have lasers in their office and the provider must be well-trained with this method.
  • Interferon (a substance injected in to the wart). This is rarely used anymore due to extensive side effects and high cost. Less expensive therapies work just as well with fewer side effects.

At-home prescription creams (these are only available by a prescription):

  • Podofilox cream or gel (Condylox®). This is a self-applied treatment for external genital warts. It may be less expensive than treatment done in a healthcare provider’s office, is easy to use and is safe, but it must be used for about 4 weeks.
  • Imiquimod cream (Aldara®). This is also a self-applied treatment for external genital warts. It is safe, effective and easy to use. This cream is different than other commonly-used treatments, which work by destroying the wart tissue. Aldara® actually boosts the immune system to fight HPV, and may make recurrences less ly.

IMPORTANT: Over-the-counter wart treatments should not be used in the genital area.

How can I reduce my risk?Any person who is sexually active can come across this common virus. Ways to reduce the risk are:

  • Abstinence (not having sex with anyone).
  • Having sex only with one partner who has sex only with you. People who have many sex partners are at higher risk of getting other sexually transmitted infections (STIs).
  • If someone has visible symptoms of genital warts, he or she should not have sexual activity until the warts are removed. This may help to lower the risk of giving the virus.
  • Condoms used the right way from start to finish every time you have sex may help provide protection – but only for the skin that is covered by the condom. Condoms do not cover all genital skin, so they don’t protect 100%.
  • Spermicidal foams, creams, jellies (and condoms coated with spermicide) are not proven to be effective in preventing HPV and may cause microscopic abrasions that make it easier to contract STIs. Spermicides are not recommended for routine use.
  • Vaccines that protect against the HPV types found with most cases of genital warts are available and recommended for boys, girls, and young men and women.

When someone has HPV, they are not ly to be reinfected if exposed again to the same type. This is probably due to the immune system’s response to the virus.

However, it is possible to be infected with a different type of HPV from a new partner.

It is important for partners to understand the “entire picture” about HPV so that both people can make informed decisions facts, not fear or misconceptions.

What about pregnancy and genital warts?Most pregnant women who have had genital warts previously but no longer do would be unly to have any complications or problems during pregnancy or birth. Most children are born healthy to women with a history of genital warts.

Because of hormone changes in the body during pregnancy, warts can grow in size and number, bleed, or, in extremely rare cases, make delivery harder. Very rarely, babies exposed to the wart-types of HPV during birth may develop growths in the throat.

This so seldom happens, though, that women with genital warts do not typically need to have a cesarean-section delivery unless warts are blocking the birth canal. It is important that a pregnant woman notify her healthcare provider or clinic if she or her partner(s) has had genital warts.

This way they can determine if they need to treat the warts, or not, during the pregnancy.


Are HPV and Genital Warts the Same Thing?

Genital warts

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It's common to have questions about sexually-transmitted viruses. For instance, you might be wondering: Is HPV the same as genital warts? Since HPV can sometimes lead to cervical cancer, does having genital warts raise your risk for cancer? Which HPV vaccines may help prevent genital warts? Below, find answers to these questions and more information on the topic.

There are more than 100 different strains of the human papillomavirus (HPV), at least 30 of which are spread by sexual contact. More than 50 percent of sexually active adults are thought to be infected with at least one strain of the virus, and up to 80 percent of sexually active women will have been exposed to at least one strain of the virus by the time they turn 50.

Some strains of HPV—but not all—cause genital warts. Genital warts caused by HPV are one of the more common types of sexually transmitted diseases.

Even when infected, however, only around 50 percent of women will have symptoms (warts) and an even smaller percentage of men will have symptoms.

So is HPV the same as genital warts? No, they are not the same thing, though HPV can sometimes cause genital warts.

Strains HPV 6 and HPV 11 account for 90% of genital warts.

Some strains of HPV can cause cervical cancer, but these are different from the strains that can cause genital warts. Strains HPV 16 and HPV 18 cause 70 percent of cervical cancers and precancerous cervical lesions. Another 20 percent of cervical cancers are caused by HPV 31, 33, 45, 52, and 58.

Certain HPV strains can also cause anal cancer, oral cancer, vaginal cancer, vulvar cancer, and penile cancer —the culprit for these is often HPV 16, which is different from the two strains that cause most cases of genital warts.

There are several risk factors that can increase your odds of developing genital warts. It's important to note that condoms lower the risk of transmission, but don't completely protect you from HPV.

Un other sexually-transmitted viruses, HPV is not spread by semen or vaginal fluid—it's spread by skin-to-skin contact. Even when a condom is on a penis, part of the skin of the penis can still touch a partner's groin area.

Some of the risk factors for genital warts include:

  • Unprotected vaginal sex
  • Anal sex
  • Oral sex
  • Genital-to-genital contact
  • Childbirth
  • Previous sexually transmitted disease
  • Multiple sexual partners

Genital warts, also called condyloma accuminata, are small pink- or flesh-colored lesions that look small pieces of cauliflower.

In women, they most commonly occur on the labia or the opening to the vagina. Genital warts in men occur less often than in women, despite equal infection rates. When warts develop, the most common site is the tip of the penis, though they may also appear on the shaft or on the testicles. Warts around the anus may develop, even without having anal sex.

Having oral sex with someone who is infected with an HPV strain that causes genital warts can cause warts in the mouth and throat.

There are several options available for treating genital warts. Some you can do yourself, while others require a visit to the doctor. Even when treated, however, genital warts frequently recur, and you may require more than one type of treatment to get rid of them. That said, genital warts don't necessarily require treatment, so ask your physician what is best in your particular case.

  • Preparations that people can apply themselves include Podofilox, Imiquimod, and Sinecatechins
  • Preparation that's applied by a physician (often once a week) includes podophylline, trichloroacetic acid, or bichloroacetic acid
  • Cryotherapy (freezing) for small warts
  • Electrocautery (burning the warts)
  • Laser treatment
  • Interferon injected directly into the warts
  • Surgical treatment

The type of treatment that's recommended depends on the size of the warts, how many there are, and where they are located. Some treatments are not recommended for women who are pregnant.

If you're wondering whether genital warts raise your risk of cervical cancer, this is a good question. It's tricky. The answer is, well, yes and no.

As mentioned earlier, the strains of HPV that cause genital warts are not the same strains that cause cervical cancer. So the technical answer is: no. However, the risk factors that can lead to a person getting genital warts are the same as the ones that can lead to a person getting cervical cancer—since both conditions are caused by strains of the same virus.

For instance, if you're a woman who has unprotected sex, especially with multiple partners, you are at a higher risk of contracting both genital warts and cervical cancer.

The behaviors that can lead to developing genital warts—not the genital warts, themselves—are what increases your risk of cervical cancer.

Whether or not the HPV vaccine offers protection against genital warts depends on the specific vaccine that you receive. As noted above, around 90 percent of genital warts are caused by HPV 6 and HPV 11.

Both the vaccines Gardasil and Gardasil 9 are effective against HPV 6 and HPV 11.

While the vaccine Cervarix offers protection against several of the cancer-causing strains of HPV, it is not designed to protect against HPV 6 and HPV 11.

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Verywell Health uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.

  1. Braaten KP, Laufer MR. Human Papillomavirus (HPV), HPV-Related Disease, and the HPV Vaccine. Rev Obstet Gynecol. 2008;1(1):2–10.

  2. Cohen PA, Jhingran A, Oaknin A, Denny L. Cervical cancer. Lancet. 2019;393(10167):169-182. doi:10.1016/S0140-6736(18)32470-X

  3. Symer MM, Yeo HL. Recent advances in the management of anal cancer. F1000Res. 2018;7:F1000 Faculty Rev-1572. doi:10.12688/f1000research.14518.1

  4. Gardner CS, Sunil J, Klopp AH, et al. Primary vaginal cancer: role of MRI in diagnosis, staging and treatment. Br J Radiol. 2015;88(1052):20150033. doi:10.1259/bjr.20150033

  5. Alkatout I, Schubert M, Garbrecht N, et al. Vulvar cancer: epidemiology, clinical presentation, and management options. Int J Womens Health. 2015;7:305–313. doi:10.2147/IJWH.S68979

  6. Hakenberg OW, Dräger DL, Erbersdobler A, Naumann CM, Jünemann KP, Protzel C. The Diagnosis and Treatment of Penile Cancer. Dtsch Arztebl Int. 2018;115(39):646–652. doi:10.3238/arztebl.2018.0646

Additional Reading

  • Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Human Papillomavirus (HPV). Genital HPV Infection – Fact Sheet. Updated 01/03/2017.


Genital HPV Infection – Fact Sheet

Genital warts

HPV is the most common sexually transmitted infection (STI). HPV is a different virus than HIV and HSV (herpes). 79 million Americans, most in their late teens and early 20s, are infected with HPV. There are many different types of HPV. Some types can cause health problems including genital warts and cancers. But there are vaccines that can stop these health problems from happening.

How is HPV spread?

You can get HPV by having vaginal, anal, or oral sex with someone who has the virus. It is most commonly spread during vaginal or anal sex. HPV can be passed even when an infected person has no signs or symptoms.

Anyone who is sexually active can get HPV, even if you have had sex with only one person. You also can develop symptoms years after you have sex with someone who is infected. This makes it hard to know when you first became infected.

Does HPV cause health problems?

In most cases, HPV goes away on its own and does not cause any health problems. But when HPV does not go away, it can cause health problems genital warts and cancer.

Genital warts usually appear as a small bump or group of bumps in the genital area. They can be small or large, raised or flat, or shaped a cauliflower. A healthcare provider can usually diagnose warts by looking at the genital area.

Does HPV cause cancer?

HPV can cause cervical and other cancers including cancer of the vulva, vagina, penis, or anus. It can also cause cancer in the back of the throat, including the base of the tongue and tonsils (called oropharyngeal cancer).

Cancer often takes years, even decades, to develop after a person gets HPV. The types of HPV that can cause genital warts are not the same as the types of HPV that can cause cancers.

There is no way to know which people who have HPV will develop cancer or other health problems. People with weak immune systems (including those with HIV/AIDS) may be less able to fight off HPV. They may also be more ly to develop health problems from HPV.

How can I avoid HPV and the health problems it can cause?

You can do several things to lower your chances of getting HPV.

Get vaccinated. The HPV vaccine is safe and effective. It can protect against diseases (including cancers) caused by HPV when given in the recommended age groups.

(See “Who should get vaccinated?” below) CDC recommends HPV vaccination at age 11 or 12 years (or can start at age 9 years) and for everyone through age 26 years, if not vaccinated already.

For more information on the recommendations, please see:

Get screened for cervical cancer. Routine screening for women aged 21 to 65 years old can prevent cervical cancer.

If you are sexually active

  • Use latex condoms the right way every time you have sex. This can lower your chances of getting HPV. But HPV can infect areas not covered by a condom – so condoms may not fully protect against getting HPV;
  • Be in a mutually monogamous relationship – or have sex only with someone who only has sex with you.

Who should get vaccinated?

HPV vaccination is recommended at age 11 or 12 years (or can start at age 9 years) and for everyone through age 26 years, if not vaccinated already.

Vaccination is not recommended for everyone older than age 26 years.

However, some adults age 27 through 45 years who are not already vaccinated may decide to get the HPV vaccine after speaking with their healthcare provider about their risk for new HPV infections and the possible benefits of vaccination.

HPV vaccination in this age range provides less benefit. Most sexually active adults have already been exposed to HPV, although not necessarily all of the HPV types targeted by vaccination.

At any age, having a new sex partner is a risk factor for getting a new HPV infection. People who are already in a long-term, mutually monogamous relationship are not ly to get a new HPV infection.

How do I know if I have HPV?

There is no test to find out a person’s “HPV status.” Also, there is no approved HPV test to find HPV in the mouth or throat.

There are HPV tests that can be used to screen for cervical cancer. These tests are only recommended for screening in women aged 30 years and older. HPV tests are not recommended to screen men, adolescents, or women under the age of 30 years.

Most people with HPV do not know they are infected and never develop symptoms or health problems from it. Some people find out they have HPV when they get genital warts. Women may find out they have HPV when they get an abnormal Pap test result (during cervical cancer screening). Others may only find out once they’ve developed more serious problems from HPV, such as cancers.

How common is HPV and the health problems caused by HPV?

HPV (the virus): About 79 million Americans are currently infected with HPV. About 14 million people become newly infected each year. HPV is so common that almost every person who is sexually-active will get HPV at some time in their life if they don’t get the HPV vaccine.

Health problems related to HPV include genital warts and cervical cancer.

Genital warts: Before HPV vaccines were introduced, roughly 340,000 to 360,000 women and men were affected by genital warts caused by HPV every year.* Also, about one in 100 sexually active adults in the U.S. has genital warts at any given time.

Cervical cancer: Every year, nearly 12,000 women living in the U.S. will be diagnosed with cervical cancer, and more than 4,000 women die from cervical cancer—even with screening and treatment.

There are other conditions and cancers caused by HPV that occur in people living in the United States. Every year, approximately 19,400 women and 12,100 men are affected by cancers caused by HPV.

*These figures only look at the number of people who sought care for genital warts. This could be an underestimate of the actual number of people who get genital warts.

I’m pregnant. Will having HPV affect my pregnancy?

If you are pregnant and have HPV, you can get genital warts or develop abnormal cell changes on your cervix. Abnormal cell changes can be found with routine cervical cancer screening. You should get routine cervical cancer screening even when you are pregnant.

Can I be treated for HPV or health problems caused by HPV?

There is no treatment for the virus itself. However, there are treatments for the health problems that HPV can cause:

  1. Genital warts can be treated by your healthcare provider or with prescription medication. If left untreated, genital warts may go away, stay the same, or grow in size or number.
  2. Cervical precancer can be treated. Women who get routine Pap tests and follow up as needed can identify problems before cancer develops. Prevention is always better than treatment. For more information visit www.cancer.orgexternal icon.
  3. Other HPV-related cancers are also more treatable when diagnosed and treated early. For more information visit www.cancer.orgexternal icon.

Where can I get more information?

STD information

HPV Information

HPV Vaccination

Cancer Information

Cervical Cancer Screening

CDC’s National Breast and Cervical Cancer Early Detection Program

STD information and referrals to STD ClinicsCDC-INFO1-800-CDC-INFO (800-232-4636)TTY: 1-888-232-6348

In English, en Español


Genital Warts (HPV)

Genital warts

Genital warts are warts that are on or near the vagina or penis (the genitals).

What Causes Genital Warts?

Genital warts are usually a sexually transmitted disease (STD). They're caused by HPV (human papillomavirus). HPV also can cause some types of cancer. But the types of HPV that cause genital warts do not usually cause cancer.

What Are STDs?

STDs (also called sexually transmitted infections or STIs) are infections that spread through sex (vaginal, oral, or anal), or close sexual contact.

What Are the Signs & Symptoms of Genital Warts?

Many people infected with HPV never get warts. If warts do develop, they usually come within a few months. But sometimes, they show up years later.

The warts can be on or near:

  • the vulva, vagina, cervix, or anus in females
  • the penis, scrotum, or anus in males

Genital warts can be raised or flat, small or large. Sometimes they're grouped together in a cauliflower- shape. Some warts can be so small and flat that they're not noticed right away.

Most of the time, genital warts are painless. Some people, though, may have itching, bleeding, burning, or pain.

How Do People Get Genital Warts?

The HPV that causes genital warts usually spreads through vaginal, oral, or anal sex or close sexual contact with the genital area. Even if there are no warts, HPV might still be active in the genital area and can spread to others.

It is not always possible for people to know when they got infected with HPV. This is because:

  • the can be in the body for months to years before warts develop
  • they might have had warts before that weren't noticed

How Are Genital Warts Diagnosed?

Health care providers usually can diagnose genital warts by looking at them. Sometimes, doctors take a small sample of the wart to send to a lab for testing. This usually isn't painful.

How Are Genital Warts Treated?

Treatments to remove genital warts include:

  • medicines put on or into the warts
  • lasers, cold, or heat put on the warts
  • surgery

Sometimes, warts come back after treatment. This is because the treatments can't get rid of all of the HPV in the body.

How Long Do Genital Warts Last?

How long genital warts last can vary from person to person. Sometimes, the immune system clears the warts within a few months. But even if the warts go away, the HPV might still be active in the body. So the warts can come back. Usually within 2 years, the warts and the HPV are gone from the body.

When Is Someone With Genital Warts No Longer Contagious?

People with genital warts definitely can spread HPV. But even after the warts are gone, HPV might still be active in the body. That means it can spread to someone else through sex or close sexual contact and cause warts in that person. It's hard to know when people are no longer contagious, because there's no blood test that looks for HPV.

Most of the time, HPV is gone within 2 years of when someone was infected.

Can Genital Warts Be Prevented?

Genital warts and other types of HPV can be prevented by a vaccine. The HPV vaccine series is recommended for all kids when they're 11–12 years old. Older teens and adults also can get the vaccine (up to age 45). Even if someone already has had one type of HPV infection, the HPV vaccine can protect against other types of HPV.

HPV almost always spreads through sex. So the best way to prevent it is to not have sex (vaginal, oral, or anal). If someone does decide to have sex, using a condom every time for sex (vaginal, oral, anal) helps prevent HPV and other STDs. But condoms can't always prevent HPV because they don't cover all areas where HPV can live.

Should Sexual Partners Be Told About Genital Warts?

Someone diagnosed with genital warts should have an honest conversation with sexual partners. Partners need to be seen by a health care provider who can check for genital warts and do screenings for other STDs.

If the couple plan to continue having sex, both people need to understand that a condom will help lower the risk of spreading genital warts/HPV but can't completely prevent it.

Looking Ahead

If you or someone you know has been diagnosed with genital warts, it is important to:

  • Know that HPV can spread to partners during sex, even if there are no warts.
  • Tell any sexual partners about the warts before having sex.
  • Use a condom every time they have sex (vaginal, oral, or anal).
  • Get tested for other STDs as recommended by your health care provider.
  • Gets all doses of the HPV vaccine.

Reviewed by: Robyn R. Miller, MD

Date reviewed: December 2018


Genital warts symptoms and treatments

Genital warts

Genital warts are a common sexually transmitted infection caused by a virus called Human Papilloma Virus (HPV).

This virus is passed on through direct skin-to-skin contact with someone who has HPV on their skin. It can be passed from person to person during vaginal and anal sex. It's also rarely passon on through oral sex.

How do I get genital warts?

You get genital warts by touching your genitals with someone else’s genitals who carries the HPV virus. The virus may be present on the skin but no actual warts can be seen.

You can get warts even if you use condoms or don’t have penetrative sex, as a condom does not cover the all of the genital skin.

Symptoms of genital warts

If you have genital warts, you may notice lumps or growths which were not there before around your vagina, penis or anus. However, you can carry the virus without developing actual warts.

You may develop symptoms years after you have been in contact with the virus, so it isn’t possible to know when you came in contact with HPV

It's common for warts to appear or re-appear during pregnancy due to a change in how the immune system manages the virus.

Testing for genital warts

If you think you may have genital warts you should make an appointment with your GP or contact your local sexual health services.

It’s important that warts are diagnosed by a doctor or nurse.

Treatment for genital warts needs to be prescribed by a doctor or nurse.

The type of treatment you'll be offered depends on what your warts are . The doctor or nurse will discuss this with you. Treatment options include:

  • Cream or liquid – you can usually apply this to the warts yourself a few times a week for several weeks. These treatments can in some cases cause soreness, irritation or a burning sensation
  • Freezing – a doctor or nurse freezes the warts with liquid nitrogen, usually every week for four weeks. This can also cause soreness, burning sensation and irritation
  • Surgery – a doctor or nurse can cut, burn or laser the warts off. This is usually only recommended if the warts are not responding or are too large for cream or freezing. Side effects of these treatments include bleeding, wound infection, or scarring

If left untreated, the warts may increase in size and number, and you will be more ly to pass the infection on to any partners. In some people warts can get better by themselves.

Recurring genital warts

Warts can come back after you have managed to get rid of them. This may happen weeks, months or years after they first appeared.

You can try and prevent this by keeping yourself and your immune system as healthy as possible by eating well, exercising.

Smoking reduces your chances of clearing the virus, so it is advised you stop smoking.

In some people the treatment doesn't work. There's no cure for genital warts but it's possible for your body to clear the virus over time.

Avoiding passing on genital warts to a partner

Using a condom every time you have vaginal, anal or oral sex is the best way to avoid passing on genital warts to a partner. However, if the virus is present on skin not protected by a condom, it can still be passed on.

Your doctor or nurse may advise you to avoid sex while you're having treatment for genital warts.

Reducing the risk of genital warts

To reduce your risk of getting genital warts you should use a condom for vaginal, anal and oral sex.

You can get warts even if you use condoms, as a condom does not cover the whole genital area.

The HPV vaccination will reduce your risk of getting HPV virus which causes warts.

Genital warts and cancer

Genital warts are not cancer and don't cause cancer. They're caused by a different strain of HPV.

The HPV vaccine offered to girls and boys in the UK to protect against cervical cancer also protects against genital warts.

From July 2017, the HPV vaccine has also been offered to men who have sex with men (MSM), trans men and trans women aged up to 45 years.

If you didn't have the vaccine at school and don’t fulfil the above eligibility criteria, you can purchase the vaccine privately.

Speak to your GP or local sexual health clinic for more information.

Other STI's

If you’ve been diagnosed with genital warts it's recommended that you're tested for all STI’s including:

  • chlamydia
  • gonorrhoea
  • syphilis
  • HIV


HPV & Genital Warts Symptoms, Treatment Options & Resources

Genital warts

HPV, the virus that causes genital warts and abnormal pap smears, is the most common STD in the US. About 79 million Americans are currently infected with HPV (the virus), and about 14 million people become newly infected each year.

HPV is so common that at least 75% of sexually active men and women will get it at some point in their lives. Most people fight off the virus on their own, but about 1% of all HPV-infected people develop genital warts.

An even smaller number of women with HPV – about 11,000 women each year – develop cervical cancer if the HPV is untreated.  HPV is also linked to other rare cancers of the penis, vulva, vagina, and anus.

How do you get HPV?

Any skin-to-skin contact with infected areas can pass along HPV, even if the person who has HPV doesn’t have any visible warts or other symptoms. You can also get it from oral, vaginal, or anal sex.

How do you know you have HPV?

Most people who have it don’t know it because they don’t have symptoms. Even people who have the type of HPV that causes genital warts might not see anything. Some people may see small bumps in or around the vagina, penis, or anus. The bumps may grow in bunches or clusters and they may itch.

How do you test for HPV?

There is currently no screening test for HPV itself or for warts. 

For women, clinicians can do a simple test called a Pap smear to look for cervical abnormalities (pre-cancer or cancer). If you think you have warts, your doctor will look at your genitals using a bright light to see the warts.

Can you get rid of HPV?

Most of the time, HPV goes away on its own.

The warts may go away on their own, too. If they do not go away, or they are bothering you, your doctor can remove the warts. There are also some medicines that you can use at home that cause the warts to go away. Even if the warts go away or are removed, the virus may stay in your skin and can be spread to others.

How can you protect yourself from getting HPV?

HPV can infect areas that are not covered by a condom – so condoms may not fully protect against HPV.

The best way to avoid genital warts and other types of HPV is to get the HPV vaccine, which is available for youth between 9 and 26 years old for free or at a reduced cost at many clinics in California. The vaccine is a series of two to three shots, depending how old you are when you get the first shot. 

The only method that is 100% effective in preventing STDs is abstinence, but if you’re sexually active, you can also decrease your risk of genital warts and other types of HPV by being mutually monogamous with someone who does not have HPV or who has had the HPV vaccine.  

What’s the worst that could happen?

Some types of HPV can lead to cervical and other cancers. In rare cases, pregnant women may pass genital warts on to their baby, which could make the baby very sick.

The kinds of HPV that cause genital warts are different from the kinds that causes cervical cancer.