Genital Warts In Women (cont.)
Melissa Conrad Stöppler, MD
Melissa Conrad Stöppler, MD, is a U.S. board-certified Anatomic Pathologist with subspecialty training in the fields of Experimental and Molecular Pathology. Dr. Stöppler's educational background includes a BA with Highest Distinction from the University of Virginia and an MD from the University of North Carolina. She completed residency training in Anatomic Pathology at Georgetown University followed by subspecialty fellowship training in molecular diagnostics and experimental pathology.
In this Article
- Genital warts definition and facts
- What causes genital warts (HPV infection)?
- How common is HPV infection?
- What are the signs and symptoms of genital warts?
- Is there a vaccine to prevent genital warts and HPV infection
- Will birth control protect me from getting genital warts or HPV infection?
- Is there a test to diagnose genital warts?
- Is there a DNA test for types of HPV infection?
- Is there a treatment that will cure genital warts (HPV infection)?
- What if a woman has precancerous changes (dysplasia) of the cervix?
- What should a person do if exposed to someone with genital warts?
- Find a local Obstetrician-Gynecologist in your town
What are the signs and symptoms of genital warts?
Genital warts appear as raised, flesh-colored lumps or bumps. They may also have a corrugated (cauliflower-like) appearance. They may appear anywhere on body surfaces that are exposed in sexual contact, including the vulva, vagina, cervix, or groin in women and the penis, scrotum, thigh, or groin in males. Size of the warts may vary, and multiple warts may be present at the same time.
In many cases genital warts do not cause any symptoms, but they are sometimes associated with itching, burning, or tenderness. They may result in localized irritation, depending upon their anatomic location. Women who have genital warts inside the vagina may experience symptoms such as bleeding following sexual intercourse or an abnormal vaginal discharge. Rarely, bleeding or urinary obstruction may occur if the wart involves the urethral opening.
Is there a vaccine to prevent genital warts and HPV infection
A vaccine is available against common HPV types associated with the development of genital warts and cervical and anogenital carcinomas. This vaccine (Gardasil 9) has received FDA approval for use in females between 9 and 26 years of age and in males aged 9 to 15. It confers immunity against 9 HPV types: 6, 11, 16, 18, 31, 33, 45, 52, and 58. An earlier version of this vaccine (Gardasil) is directed at 4 common HPV types (6, 11, 16, 18). Another vaccine directed at HPV types 16 and 18, known as Cervarix, was approved for use in females aged 10 to 15, but was withdrawn from the market in 2016 due to low demand.
Learn more about: Cervarix
Will birth control protect me from getting genital warts or HPV infection?
- Abstinence from sexual activity can prevent the spread of HPVs that are transmitted via sexual contact. A person who abstains from sex may still become infected with other HPV types, such as those that cause common skin warts. Some researchers have postulated that HPV infection might be transmitted from the mother to her infant at the time of delivery because some studies have identified genital HPV infection in populations of young children and cloistered nuns. Hand-genital and oral-genital transmission of HPV has also been documented and is another means of transmission.
- HPV usually is transmitted by direct genital contact during sexual activity. The virus is not found in or spread by bodily fluids, and HPV is not found in blood or organs harvested for transplantation.
- Condom use seems to decrease the risk of transmission of HPV during sexual activity, but it does not completely prevent HPV infection.
- Spermicides and hormonal birth control methods cannot prevent the spread of HPV infection.
Is there a test to diagnose genital warts?
HPV sometimes can be suspected by changes that appear on a Pap smear, since pap smears identify infected abnormal cells that may be precursors to cancer. While HPV infection can lead to precancerous changes in the cervix that are recognized on the Pap smear, the Pap smear itself cannot definitely establish the diagnosis of HPV infection, unless special testing is carried out on the material obtained from the Pap. When there is an abnormal Pap smear, the doctor often will do advanced testing on the material to determine if, and which kind, of HPV may be present. HPV also can be detected if a biopsy (for example, from a genital wart or from the uterine cervix) is sent to the laboratory for analysis.
Is there a DNA test for types of HPV infection?
In 2009, the U.S. FDA approved the first DNA tests for diagnosis of the common cancer-causing HPV types in cervical samples. Two tests known as Cervista HPV 16/18 and Cervista HPV HR, are used to diagnose the presence of DNA from the two most common HPV types associated with cancer. These are HPV types 16 and 18, as well as other "high risk" or cancer-associated HPV types. These tests do not replace standard Pap testing or clinical examination, and they are used in combination with traditional screening methods to help estimate a woman's risk and aid in management decisions.
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