Genital warts and HPV

Genital warts are caused by the human papillomavirus (HPV). You can get genital warts in or around your anus and on your penis. Some people who have HPV get them quite often, while others get them only rarely if ever. Many men are carriers of HPV without ever having any symptoms. Genital warts will often disappear on their own, without treatment. There are different options for treatment.

Symptoms of genital warts

The first symptoms might already appear after three weeks, but it could also take up to a year before you notice anything. The tiny warts that might first appear around your penis or in or around your anus will be barely visible. While they are small at first, they can eventually develop into irregularly shaped, cauliflower-like warts. They normally don't itch and are not painful. Many people who are carriers of HPV will never actually get genital warts or hardly even notice them if they do get them.

Treatment of genital warts

If your warts don't cause you any discomfort, they don't need to be treated. Genital warts usually go away on their own within two years. If your genital warts spread or make you feel very uncomfortable, your doctor can treat them. 

There are various treatment options for genital warts: applying a special cream or lotion over the course of several weeks, freezing them off with liquid nitrogen, or removing them with a laser or a surgical knife. Removing the warts will not remove the virus that causes them from your body. That means that after having been treated for warts, you could still get them again.

Transmission of genital warts

HPV is highly contagious. The virus can easily be passed on by someone who has warts, but also by people who don't have any symptoms. The virus can also be transmitted indirectly, for example by means of a towel. You can get vaccinated against HPV, but unfortunately the vaccination is not free.

Testing for genital warts

Simply by looking at the abnormalities on your skin, your doctor can say whether or not you have genital warts. No blood tests are needed and no cultures need to be grown. Do you think you might have a genital wart? Discuss it with your doctor.

Anal cancer from HPV

Some strains of HPV cause genital warts. But there are also so-called "oncogenic" (tumour-causing) types of HPV that will increase your chances of developing anal cancer. Men with HIV are relatively more likely to get anal cancer or one of its earliest stages (AIN).


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