Are HPV and Genital Warts the Same Thing?

The Relationship Between HPV and Genital Warts

Close up of genital warts
Are HPV and genital warts the same thing?. Getty Images/Science Picture Co/Collection Mix: Subjects

Are HPV and genital warts the same thing? Since HPV is connected with cervical cancer, does having genital warts raise your risk of cancer? Which HPV vaccines may prevent genital warts?

Human Papillomavirus (HPV) vs Genital Warts

It is true that genital warts are caused by the  human papillomavirus (HPV), but not all strains of HPV cause genital warts. There are over 100 different strains of the HPV virus, but only some of these cause genital warts.

Some strains of HPV can also cause cervical cancer, but these are different strains of the virus than those which cause genital warts. This can be very confusing, and since the questions are very common we will make these distinctions—as well as what you need to know if you've been diagnosed with either genital warts or HPV—a bit clearer.

An Overview of HPV

There are more than 100 types of of the human papillomavirus (HPV), at least 30 of which are spread by sexual contact. HPV has been linked to certain types of cervical cancers as well other cancers such mouth and throat cancers, anal cancer, penile cancer, and even lung cancer. More than 50 percent of sexually active adults are thought to be infected with at least one strain of the virus, and up to 80 percent of sexually active women will have been exposed to at least one strain of the virus by the time they turn 50.

Which Strains of HPV Cause Genital Warts?

Genital warts caused by HPV are one of the more common types of sexually transmitted diseases.

Even when infected, however, only around 50 percent of women will have symptoms (warts) and a smaller percentage of men. HPV 6 and HPV 11 account for 90 percent of genital warts.

Risk Factors for Genital Warts (HPV Causing Strains of Genital Warts)

There are several risk factors which raise the risk a person will develop genital warts.

It's important to note that condoms lower the risk but due not prevent infection with HPV. Some of these risk factors include:

  • Unprotected vaginal sex
  • Anal sex
  • Oral sex
  • Genital-to-genital contact
  • Childbirth
  • Previous sexually transmitted disease
  • Multiple sexual partners

Do Genital Warts Raise Your Risk of Cervical Cancer?

If you're wondering if genital warts raise your risk of cervical cancer this is a good question. The answer is yes and no.

The answer is no if you are referring to the infection causing genital warts predisposing you to cervical cancer. The strains of HPV that cause genital warts and the strains which cause cervical cancer are different, and there doesn't appear to be any overlap at this time. 90 percent of genital warts are caused by HPV 6 and HPV 11. In contrast, 70 percent of cervical cancers are related to infection with HPV 16 and HPV 18. (HPV 16 is implicated the most in head and neck cancers.) Another 20 percent of cervical cancers are caused by HPV 31, 33, 45, 52, and 58.

The answer to the above question is different if you are referring to whether the risk factors for genital warts are the same as the risk factors for cervical cancer. In this case, the answer is true. Though the HPV infections which cause genital warts don't cause cervical cancer, some of the behaviors (such as multiple sexual partners) which predispose a person to genital warts also increase the likelihood of exposure to cancer causing strains of HPV, and hence, cervical cancer.

Appearance of Genital Warts

Genital warts, also called condyloma accuminata, are small pink to flesh colored lesions that look like small pieces of cauliflower. In women, they most commonly occur on the labia or the opening to the vagina.

Genital warts in men occur less commonly than in women despite equal infection rates. When warts develop, the most common site is the tip of the penis, though they may also occur on the shaft or on the testicles. Warts around the anus may develop, even without anal sex.

Oral sex with someone infected with a genital wart causing strain can cause warts in the mouth and throat.

Treatments for Genital Warts

There are several options available for treating genital warts, some of which you can do yourself and others which require a visit to the doctor. Even when treated, however, genital warts frequently recur, and you may require more than one type of treatment to get rid of them. That said, genital warts don't necessarily require treatment, and it's best to ask your physician what is best in your particular case.Treatments include

  • Preparations which people can apply themselves include Podofilox, Imiquimod and Sinecatechins
  • Preparation applied by a physician (often once a week) including podophylline or trichloroacetic acid or bichloroacetic acid
  • Cryotherapy (freezing) for small warts
  • Electrocautery (burning the wars)
  • Laser treatment
  • Interferon injected directly into the warts
  • Surgical treatment

The treatment will depend the size of the warts, how many there are, and where they are located. Some treatments are not recommended for women who are pregnant.

Can the HPV Vaccine Prevent Genital Warts?

Whether or not the HPV vaccine offers protection against genital warts depends on the specific vaccine you receive. As noted above, around 90 percent of genital warts are caused by HPV 6 and HPV 11

Both Gardisil and Gardisil 9 are effective against HPV 6 and HPV 11. While Cervarix offers protection against several of the cancer causing strains of HPV, it is not designed to cover HPV 6 and HPV 11.

Sources:

Carusi, D. Patient education: Genital warts in women (Beyond the Basics). UpToDate Updated 06/22/15.

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Human Papillomavirus (HPV). Genital HPV Infection – Fact Sheet. Updated 01/03/2017. https://www.cdc.gov/std/hpv/stdfact-hpv.htm

Continue Reading