December 1, 2008

Q&A: Genital Warts Treatment And HPV Transmission

This reader was recently diagnosed with genital warts. What should he do now about treatment and prevention of spreading his HPV to future partners?

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Question: I recently learned that I have genital warts on my penis. How should I get treated for these? Can I pass them on to women I have sex with? And is it true that people who have HPV warts, like me, can get cancer from the HPV?

The human papillomavirus – referred to as HPV – has more than 100 strains. Some strains can cause genital warts, as you have. In many cases, the warts are visible, as has happened to you.

Men who have genital warts may notice them on any part of their genitals including their penis, scrotum, anal area, or on the skin underneath their pubic hair.

Women who have genital warts may notice them along their bikini line, vulva, anal area or on their mons pubis, which is the triangular area where pubic hair commonly grows

Many May Not Even Notice Genital Warts

In many cases, however, women and men who have genital warts may not even notice them. The warts themselves may look more like small pimples, or else they may be so small that they are not easily seen with the naked eye.

Other strains of HPV do not cause warts, or are unlikely to cause warts, but they may be associated with an increased risk of cancers of the cervix, vulva, penis or anus. Please note that this does not mean that if you have HPV, that you will also get cancer. In fact, most people who HPV never get any of these types of cancers.

It has been estimated that 60 to 80% of sexually active women and men will get HPV at some point in their lives, and yet most people’s immune systems will clear the infection over time.

HPV And Cancer Risk

HPV can certainly increase a person’s risk of these cancers, but the development of cancer is complex and a person’s risk is influenced by a number of factors including their genes, their general health, and other lifestyle factors such as smoking, which can increase the risk of most cancers.

Treatment Options

In terms of treatment for genital warts, it varies. Many healthcare providers prefer a “wait and see” approach to genital warts, as they often go away on their own.

Other times, healthcare providers may prescribe a topical treatment, which comes as a cream that women or men can apply to their warts in the privacy of their own home. Over time, the cream may help the warts to go away.

Other treatments are available in-office that can help to clear warts, and you should ask your healthcare provider what treatment approach may be right for you.

HPV Transmission

As for transmission, it is indeed possible to pass the HPV strains to a partner even if you don’t have visible warts. Because of this, it would be wise, caring and responsible of you to let past, present and future partners know about your HPV status. Condoms can reduce, but not completely prevent, HPV transmission.

Learn More

To learn more about HPV, visit the Kinsey Confidential STI Resource Pages or the web site of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

  • Anonymous

    Another problem about 60% men’s faces is Pearly Penile Pepules. Many men mistakenly think they have acquired a sexually transmitted disease or developed genital warts when they first notice the Pearly Penile Papules. They are not a symptom of an STD.
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