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The truth about genital warts

» Contracting HPV

» Diagnosing HPV

» A cancer link

Treatment options

While the methods described below can be used to remove genital warts, they are not a cure for the virus itself, as HPV may linger in surrounding tissues.

  • Liquid preparations, such as TCA (trichloracetic acid), can be applied directly to the warts to destroy them.
  • Cryotherapy destroys warts by freezing.
  • Laser therapy destroys warts by using a high-intensity beam of light.
  • Electrosurgery uses a wire loop or needle to burn away the affected tissue.

About 6.2 million people a year are diagnosed with the human papillomavirus (HPV), the virus that causes genital warts. But because the virus doesn’t always produce visible warts, countless others may also be infected.

Contracting HPV

The virus is spread mainly via skin-to-skin contact in the genital area. Fueling transmission is the fact that infected people are often unaware that they are putting their partners at risk.

Diagnosing HPV

If you have visible genital warts, HPV is easily diagnosed. The warts may be flesh-colored, white, pink or brown bumps that may be raised or flat, single or multiple, large or small. Often, they’re painless, but sometimes they can cause itching and bleeding.

Very small warts or those located in hard-to-see areas may be discovered via colposcopy, a procedure that offers a magnified view of the vagina through a special scope. In the absence of warts, HPV is usually detected by a Pap test and then confirmed by follow-up testing. (See box for treatment options.)

A cancer link

HPV is the major cause of cervical cancer, according to the national cancer Institute. So, if you’ve been infected with HPV, get regular Pap smears, the best way to ensure that cervical cancer is caught early on.

© 2014 Dowden Health Media