What Are Genital Warts?
Genital warts are small outgrowths of tissue (skin) that occur around the genital area. It is caused by a common virus called the human papilloma virus (HPV) and may be present in more that 50% of sexually active people! These warts tend to show up as fleshy, painless lumps on the genitals and may present as being itchy.
How Is HPV Caught?
Direct skin-to-skin contact spreads HPV, this usually during sex but HPV can also be spread by non-sexual means. Some individuals may receive the HPV virus via vertical transmission - that is from the mother during birth. The chance of infecting someone is greatest when there are visible warts.
If These Warts Are Painless - Why Worry?
HPV infections although seldom associated with pain or anything other than mild discomfort can sometimes be associated with an increased risk of
precancerous and cancerous cervical smears (pap smears). When seen through a microscope, the cell changes are minor and will require nothing more than regular smears and monitoring by your physician. Men seem to have a lower risk of cancer associated with genital warts. However, homosexual men who are HIV positive are advised to have annual checks to ensure that the genital skin area does no harbour abnormal cells.
Usually the body's immune system takes care of the virus, by rendering it dormant or ridding the body of it entirely. Visible warts or cell abnormalities can be treated but the virus itself cannot be readily killed or removed from the body by medicines. Genital warts are commonly treated at any STD clinic or by your doctor. Treatment may be repetitive and may take a few weeks. Treatment types available depend on the size, location and extent of the warts:
- surgical removal - either by cutting and/or evaporating via laser.
- chemical removal - by painting the warts with podophyllin
- thermal removal - by cryotherapy and/or cauterising the warts.
See your doctor for more options for treating warts and never self-diagnose and administer treatment without advice.
Abnormal Cervical Smears
It is important that an annual cervical smear is carried out if you are sexually active. If the tissue taken during a smear is thought to be abnormal a small sample of the cervix may have to be taken (a biopsy). Your doctor will advise you whether further treatment may be need - this is usually the removal of the abnormal cells via minor surgery, laser or cautery.
What To Do
If you have HPV then:
- Maintain a healthy lifestyle, this helps your body deal with most infections. Smoking is a bad idea as it can reduce the efficiency of most body functions.
- A colposcopy is recommended for women with a persistent HPV infection.
- Women whose partners have HPV should have an annual cervical smear.
- Always wear a condom during sex till you know your partner better.
Seek further information about genital warts amd HPV at any sexual health or STD clinic. Your doctor, gynaecologist, urologist, or Family Planning Clinic can also help you with your problem.
cauterising burning, a cautery is a surgical instrument that uses a focused heating filament to remove tissue.
cervical smear a specimen take from the cervix during by your doctor, it's called a smear because the cells taken are smeared onto a slide for examination.
colposcopy a method of examining the vagina and cervix by using a low powered microscope.
cyrotherapy freezing, extreme cold can also remove tissue.
dormant asleep or inactive.
precancerous an abnormal change in cell structure, often seen as a prelude to cancer but may not necessarily indicate cancer.
STD sexually transmitted diseases