Genital warts

Genital warts are small, non-cancerous growths that appear on or around the genitals or anus. They’re also known as anogenital warts.

By Wallace Health I Medically reviewed by Adrian Roberts.
Page last reviewed: October 2018 I Next review due: October 2021

What are genital warts?

Genital warts affect about one in 10 sexually active men and women. They’re the most common type of viral sexually transmitted infection (STI).

Genital warts are normally passed on during vaginal or anal sex. However, in rare cases, you can get them from having oral sex. Sexually active men and women with many partners are most at risk. You’re also more at risk if you:

  • Are stressed
  • Have a poor diet
  • Have another viral infection
  • Smoke
  • Were sexually active at a young age

You can have genital warts but not notice them.

Treatment options include prescribed creams and ointments, freezing, cauterisation or surgical removal. Treatment doesn’t always work, but, for most people, the virus eventually goes away by itself thanks to the body’s immune system.

If you or your partner have genital warts, you should avoid sex, stop smoking, and ask your GP for advice.

How to tell if you have genital warts

The symptoms of genital warts are easier to spot in men. That’s because, in females, genital warts may be hidden inside the vagina or around the cervix (entrance to the womb).

You may have just one wart or lots of them. They may be soft or hard, depending on where they are. Their colour can vary too.

Genital warts may be painless but they can also be irritated, inflamed and make you feel sore. They may also bleed when you have intercourse. You may also experience anal discharge or itchy genitals.

Talk to your doctor if you’re concerned about symptoms

You can book an appointment with a Spire private GP today.

Diagnosis and tests for genital warts

Your doctor will usually be able to diagnose genital warts by examining your skin, genitals or anus. If they’re uncertain, they may refer you to a sexual health specialist for further assessment.

They may also recommend you have tests for other STIs. That’s because around one in five people with genital warts also has another STI.

Causes of genital warts

Genital warts are caused by the human papillomavirus (HPV). However, not everyone with HPV develops them.

HPV is spread by sexual activity – it isn’t spread by mouth-to-mouth kissing. Using a condom doesn’t mean you’re fully protected unless it completely covers the warts.

Some people have HPV without any symptoms but the virus can still be passed on, even if the warts aren’t visible.

Some types of HPV have been linked to cancer. However, the type of HPV that causes genital warts doesn’t cause cancer and cancer doesn’t cause genital warts.

Common treatments for genital warts

One in three people finds that their warts disappear within six months without treatment. Sometimes they come back a while later.

Your doctor will be able to advise on how to get rid of genital warts. Treatments can include:

  • Burning off the warts (electrocautery)
  • Cream or acid treatment prescribed by your doctor that you can use at home
  • Freezing with liquid nitrogen (cryotherapy)
  • Laser treatment or cauterisation
  • Surgical removal


Patient Info
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention
The Terrence Higgins Trust

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