How Are Genital Warts Recognized and Treated?

Genital warts are flesh-colored bumps that can appear on or around the genitals.

The human papillomavirus (HPV) is what causes this condition.

When a person has genital warts, HPV can be transmitted to others even if the person has no symptoms.

How Are Genital Warts Recognized?

Genital warts can appear on or around the genitals. Possible locations include:

  • vulva
  • vagina
  • penis
  • scrotum
  • cervix, cervix
  • anus
  • thigh

These warts may also appear in the mouth or throat if the person has had oral sex with someone who has them.

Genital warts are similar to warts that can infect a person’s hands or other parts of the body. This is because various strains of HPV cause all warts, including genital warts.

Genital warts can appear weeks, months, or even years after an HPV infection.

Some people with HPV have no symptoms. Therefore, the fact that a person has not had sexual intercourse recently does not rule out the possibility of genital warts.

Genital warts do not cause sores, bleeding, or open sores unless a person scratches them or gets caught in something.

Colorless marks, redness, or bleeding on or around the genitals often indicate the presence of something else, such as herpes or a skin infection.

Some symptoms that suggest genital bumps may be genital warts include:

  • The ridges are tan or slightly darker.
  • Tubers appear as a single tuber or in clusters that may resemble a cauliflower.
  • The ridges can be rough, smooth, straight or raised.
  • The bumps may itch, but they usually don’t hurt.

What Causes Genital Warts?

HPV causes genital warts. This is the most common sexually transmitted infection in the United States.

The strain of HPV that causes genital warts is spread through skin-to-skin contact with someone who has it, usually during vaginal, anal or oral sex. However, genital warts can still spread without penetration and if a person has no symptoms.

Any anal, vaginal, or penile contact can spread HPV. This can happen even if a person does not have HPV symptoms.

Condoms do not provide complete protection against HPV, as they do not cover all areas of the body that can spread the infection. However, they can reduce the chance of HPV spreading.

Genital warts are not dangerous, but the person may not like the way they look.

A different type of HPV than the one that causes genital warts can increase the risk of cancer. This type of HPV is associated with a higher risk of certain cancers, including:

  • throat cancer
  • vulvar and vaginal cancers
  • penile cancer
  • anal cancer
  • cervical cancer

According to the World Health Organization (WHO), “almost all cases of cervical cancer can be attributed to HPV infection.”

The strain of HPV that causes genital warts is a low-risk strain for cervical cancer, but other HPV strains are higher-risk.

People with genital warts may also have a type of HPV that increases their risk of cancer.

How Do Genital Warts Feel?

Some people with genital warts say they feel small, similar to cauliflower.

The outer surface of warts may be smooth or rough. Warts may grow or change texture a little before they heal.

These warts don’t usually hurt, but the skin under the wart may be itchy. If warts get caught on something like underwear, they can cause damage.

Genital warts will not bleed if a person does not bother them. However, friction from walking or sex can irritate or tear warts. Warts can open, bleed, or become infected from friction or if they get caught on something.

What Else Can Cause Bumps on the Genital Organs?

The presence of bumps on or around the genitals does not necessarily mean that a person has HPV.

Some other possible causes of genital bumps include:

  • cysts or other growths under the skin
  • other types of skin irritation, such as razor burn and heat rash
  • skin infections caused by bacteria, yeast, or other germs
  • tumors, including both benign tumors and cancerous growths
  • other sexually transmitted infections such as herpes or syphilis

When Should You Seek a Doctor?

No test can reliably detect HPV for both sexes. However, in women, doctors may test for HPV with a Pap smear during cervical cancer screenings.

For many people, doctors will diagnose the condition based on symptoms after ruling out other possible conditions.

A person should consult a doctor in the following cases:

  • have genital warts or other genital bumps
  • if there is genital pain
  • if the doctor wants them to test for other sexually transmitted infections

Some tests can look for HPV-related cancer. The doctor may recommend regular Pap smears or other tests based on the person’s history of genital warts.

Because it is impossible to self-diagnose HPV, it is important to consult a doctor about any unusual or new growths on the genitals, even if the person thinks they have not been exposed to HPV.

Source: MedicalNewsToday. How to recognize and treat genital warts and when to contact a doctor. 2021


  • Condom effectiveness: Fact sheet for public health personnel. (2013).
  • Genital HPV infection – Fact sheet. (2021).
  • genital warts. (n.d.).
  • Genital warts: Overview. (n.d.).
  • HPV vaccine information for young women. (2016).
  • Human papillomavirus (HPV) and cervical cancer. (2020).
  • Human papillomavirus (HPV) treatment and care. (2016).
  • What are the symptoms of genital warts? (n.d.).

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