Genital warts are bumps that appear on areas such as the vagina, penis, anus and scrotum. They are usually harmless but can be annoying. Warts are caused by the human papillomavirus (HPV). If you have any new lumps or bumps in your genital area, it's a good idea to see your doctor.
There are more than 100 types of HPV that affect the skin. About 40 of these can cause genital warts, while others cause warts elsewhere on the body. Other types of HPV are associated with cervical cancer and anal cancer. The types of HPV that cause genital warts are unlikely to cause cancer.
The HPV vaccine protects you against the types of HPV that cause most genital warts as well as the high-risk types of HPV that cause cancer. However, the vaccine doesn't protect against all types of HPV. Safe sex, and having a Cervical Screening Test every 5 years is vital for any woman aged 25 to 74 who has ever been sexually active. (The Cervical Screening Test detects HPV and has replaced the Pap smear.)
How do people get HPV?
Most HPV is spread during sexual contact, when tiny breaks occur to the skin. Genital warts are very contagious. Genital HPV infection is common in sexually active adults, and most people don't develop genital warts.
Condoms reduce the risk of infection by HPV, but don't completely stop the spread of the virus. However, condoms provide protection against other sexually transmitted infections and are an important part of safe sex for many couples.
Symptoms of genital warts
Genital warts are usually painless. They can be bumpy, flat, or appear in clusters. Your doctor can often tell if you have genital warts by examining you. You may like to be checked for other sexually transmitted conditions at the same time.
Treatment of genital warts
Genital warts may clear up without treatment. However, if they are painful, unsightly, itchy or annoying, they can be treated. Treatment doesn't get rid of the virus itself, just the warts. Your immune system may clear the virus, or it may persist undetected.
Treatment options include:
- wart paint (specifically for genital warts)
- freezing (cryotherapy) or burning off
- laser treatment
- cream to boost the immune system to fight the HPV virus
Treatments for other types of warts are not suitable for genital warts. See your doctor to discuss treatment options.
For more information about genital warts, HPV, or cervical cancer, go to your doctor or sexual health clinic, or visit the sexual health and family planning website for your state or territory.
Last reviewed: July 2018