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Penile warts

Extensive vulval warts

perianal warts

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Genital Warts:UK figures

What are warts?

Warts are caused by a virus called the human papilloma virus and can occur anywhere on the body. When they appear around the sexual parts (genitals) they are known as genital warts. Around the ‘back passage’ they are known as perianal warts.

How do they show up?

Warts can take on a variety of appearances and are best described as fleshy growths. You may have spotted them yourself, or they may have been noticed by a doctor, nurse or your partner. Usually they are not painful although they can sometimes be irritable. It often takes at least several months before warts show up and of course they can be present without you realising it.

Are they common?

A number of skin conditions are seen at GUM clinics and genital warts are seen more frequently than any other.

How do you get them?

Warts can be passed on during sexual intercourse and close body contact. It is therefore important that your sexual partner is checked at a clinic for warts/ and other common infections which can encourage the growth of warts. It is possible to develop them in or around the mouth after oral sex with someone who has genital warts though this is uncommon. It is not unknown for them to be passed from the fingers to the genital area.

What about partners?

It is probably pointless to avoid sexual intercourse until the warts have been cleared. Condoms are usually ineffectual in preventing the spread of warts. However they are usually a very effective means of reducing the risk of other sexual infections and therefore should be considered even after the warts have disappeared. Remember however that warts only need skin to skin contact to be passed on. Current partners may benefit from a check-up too.

Can they be treated?

Yes. A doctor or nurse can quickly and easily treat warts in an out-patient clinic. They will discuss with you the most appropriate treatment for your warts.It is unusual for one application of the treatment to be enough. Generally you will be seen at a clinic at weekly intervals until they have cleared.

Women can still attend for treatment as normal during their menstrual periods.

Everyone is different therefore it is impossible to say how many times you may need to attend. Staff are aware that this may be a problem and will do all they can to help.

It is quite common for them to return after treatment and this does not always mean that a new infection has been caught. The treatment gets rid of the warts but not the virus which stays under the skin.

What treatments are available?

The two most commonly used treatments are paint and cryotherapy.


The "paints" refer to a substance called Podophyllin dissolved in benzoin and a mild solution of trichloroacetic acid. When applied to warts it is vital it is washed off at a stated time otherwise good skin could be damaged. The doctor or nurse will tell you how long to keep it on for. It is possible to have a reaction to paint. If the skin becomes very sore and painful while the paint is on, wash it off immediately. Check all the paint has been removed, (women use a mirror) keep the area clean and dry, remember not to use creams, lotions or perfumed products. If you are concerned you can always contact your local clinic for help.

Wash the paint off with warm water and unscented soap, pat the skin dry and apply baby powder. The paint treatment is not recommended for use on pregnant women.


This is a freezing treatment which can be sprayed onto warts. It does not need to be washed off at a certain time. It is safe to use in pregnancy. Small tender areas may appear on the skin after spraying. Keep the affected areas clean and dry as before. A simple painkiller such as Paracetamol may help. Again staff at the clinic will be happy to advise if you are worried.

Anything else?

Remember to wash the paint off as directed. Warts love moisture so keep the skin clean and dry. Use unperfumed talcum powder or baby powder. Avoid using perfumed soap, oils, bubble baths, creams and lotions.

Many women are anxious to know if having warts can cause cancer of the cervix. This is very unlikely. Smears are therefore usually still only recommended every 3 to 5 years.

Warts in pregnancy can be treated safely, although in some cases treatment is put off until after delivery. Each woman will be assessed individually.

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