Sexually transmitted diseases (STDs) are at an all-time high in the United States. According to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), cases of gonorrhea, chlamydia and syphilis have increased in 2015 compared to the previous year.1
The CDC also states that the human papillomavirus (HPV) is the most common sexually transmitted disease, which causes a complication commonly known as genital warts.
Despite Getting Little Attention, Genital Warts Are More Common Than You Think
When you think of STDs, syphilis and gonorrhea usually come into your mind, but genital warts belong to this classification as well. It’s so common, and it’s estimated to currently affect 79 million Americans, with 14 million new cases being reported annually.2
Common Misconceptions of Genital Warts and HPV
Due to its prevalence, many misconceptions have surrounded this disease. Below are some myths about HPV and genital warts, which you may have heard:3
• Warts Can Lead to Cervical Cancer
While it’s true that genital warts and cervical cancer are both complications of HPV, they don’t go hand-in-hand. Low-risk HPV strains create warts and high-risk HPV strains cause cancer.
• You Can Treat HPV
You can treat the symptoms (warts) through various procedures, but you can’t get rid of the HPV itself. Your body will have to take care of that on its own.
• Only Women Can Get HPV
Sexually active men can get HPV as well, but genital warts may not develop. Children can become infected with HPV and warts may appear in areas such as the hands, face or neck. In short, anyone can develop warts as long as the HPV makes contact with their skin.
• All HPV Strains Can Cause Cancer
Only high-risk strains of HPV can cause certain cancers, specifically anal, penile, vaginal, vulvar and cervical cancer. The most common high-risk strains are HPV types 16 and 18.4
• Women in Same-Sex Relationships Can’t Get HPV
The HPV virus is transmitted through direct skin-to-skin contact so it’s possible that lesbian couples can get genital warts, especially if one of them previously had male sexual partners.
What Do Genital Warts Look Like?
Genital warts look like flesh-colored or gray bumps that can appear anywhere on a man’s penis or a woman’s vagina. They typically form a cluster that looks like a cauliflower, but sometimes only a single wart may appear.5 They can also appear in nearby areas, such as the groin, anus and thighs.
The usual method of diagnosis for genital warts is a visual examination. But to be sure you have HPV, your doctor may perform a biopsy, wherein a tissue sample is taken from a wart and then examined. In addition, your doctor may perform a colonoscopy to check if any warts have grown inside your vagina or anus.6
These methods will help you and your doctor determine the best treatment option for your condition.
Learn All About Genital Warts
Genital warts (and HPV in general) do not have a cure. Instead, the treatment options available are designed to help you experience relief from the symptoms.7 This guide will show you different treatment options available, how to prevent genital warts from happening in the first place and what you can do to increase your body’s resistance against HPV.