Genital Warts

Genital warts are caused by HPV (Human Papilloma Virus). Although warts may get better by themselves, most people opt for treatment. Warts may sometimes come back even after they have been treated.

What is it?

Genital warts cause lumps/bumps or skin changes on the genitals. Not all genital lumps are warts.

Genital warts are caused by a common skin virus called HPV type 6 & 11 (short for Human Papilloma Virus). Many people will have the virus in their skin and never develop warts. If you do develop warts we can offer treatment to make the warts go away but it is up to your body's immune system to get rid off the actual HPV virus, which may take months or years.

Warts can appear for the first time during pregnancy because the immune system changes when someone is pregnant. Genital warts can be treated with cryotherapy (freezing) during pregnancy. You cannot use wart creams during pregnancy. Having genital warts rarely affects the baby during birth. If you are pregnant, there is little risk to the baby, but you should tell your doctor or nurse if you have genital warts.

Other types of HPV (type 16 and 18) can cause cancers: cancer of the cervix (neck of the womb), vulva, vagina, anus, penis and throat. This is different to the types which cause genital warts (type 6 & 11). It is important for all women who are aged 25 to 64 years to have cervical screening (smear test) at their GPs. You can check you are up-to-date with this by calling your GP.

If you are worried about any new genital lumps/bumps or colour change, come to our service or your GP for a check up.

How do I catch it?

HPV is passed from one person to another through skin-to-skin genital contact. This does not need to be penetrative sex (vaginal, anal or oral), but could just be close genital contact.

You can’t catch HPV from hugging, kissing, swimming pools, toilets, sharing towels or sharing cups, plates or cutlery.

What symptoms could I have?

Most people who get HPV don’t show any signs or symptoms (including genital warts), and the virus will go away by itself. This means that you might not know if you or your partner has the virus.

If you do get genital warts, you might notice fleshy bumps, growths or skin changes appearing anywhere in the genital or anal area. The warts can appear three weeks to a few months, or even years after catching HPV.

How do you test for it?

There is no routine test available for the HPV virus. The diagnosis of genital warts is made in the sexual health clinic by a doctor or nurse looking at your skin.

You can use the service finder to find a sexual health service near you.

How do you treat it?

Most people do opt for treatment even though the warts may get better by themselves.

Using a cream on the warts a few times a week at home is the most common treatment option. These treatments can take from weeks to months to work. Other options include heat (electrocautery), freezing (cryotherapy), laser or surgery.

Once the warts have gone, there is a chance that they will come back.

A vaccine is available that protects you from getting the main types of HPV (the HPV types that cause warts, cancers and other types). This is now given to all boys and girls at school. In sexual health clinics in England, we can give this vaccine to men who have sex to men up to the age of 45 years old.