Genital warts, also known as condyloma, is a common condition presented with skin growth over genital region. They may be smooth and flat or raised with a rough texture, with a pink fleshy color or darker in some people. Warts are usually painless albeit they are a sore to the eye as they can be ugly looking and they can grow in numbers. Current estimates suggest that as many as 10% of adults have genital warts. They are caused by a viral infection known as human papillomavirus (also known as HPV).
There are over 70 different variants of HPV that have been identified, each of which can cause warts in different areas of the body. a small subset of HPV variants can cause infection in the genital area. HPV is spread by direct skin-to-skin contact, including sexual intercourse or any other contact involving the genital area, for example hand to genital contact. Warts may appear weeks to a year or more after contact with another person who has HPV. Often, it is not possible to know when, how, or from whom the infection was transmitted.
Why is it important to know about it?
Other than the non-cancerous growth of warts, HPV can also cause cancer in both men and women. In fact, it is one of the leading causes of cervical cancer worldwide. Malaysian statistics show that cervical cancer is the second most common cancer in women. HPV is also associated with penile and anal cancer albeit at a lower rate compare to cervical cancer. So if you have a lump or bump surrounding the genital region, even though they are highly likely a non-cancerous growth, you do need to rule out cancer or even other STDs that may represent similarly to HPV.
For men, genital warts typically do not pose any long-term health risks unless they are uncircumcised and have poor hygiene. For women, there may be the risk of developing an abnormal Pap smear or, in some cases, precancerous or cancerous change of the cervix (the opening of the womb). Of all the different types of HPV which cause genital infection, it is only a smaller set of HPV subtypes that may cause precancerous change of the cervix. Men can be treated for HPV to avoid placing their female partners at risk.
How to treat it?
There are many varieties of topical agents that can be directly applied to the warts. Even so, warts may recur in about half of the patients. If topical agents do not work, or if there are warts that are too large for treatment with topical agents, then there are a variety of procedures available to remove warts, which include excision (surgical removal), cryoablation (freezing), or ablation with electrocautery or laser (destruction of warts with heat energy). Electrocautery can typically be carried out in the office. A local anesthetic is used to numb the area of skin around the wart.
Following successful treatment of warts, patients are advised to carry out self-examination to monitor for new warts. Most people who develop recurrent warts will do so within three to six months of treatment.
How to prevent it?
The best way to prevent genital warts is the HPV vaccine. This vaccine is widely available. It is best to be taken at younger age or to make it simple when you are not yet sexually active. Both men and women are advised to do so we can reduce the risk of spreading the disease.