9 Questions and Answers about Genital Warts and HPV in Men

What causes genital warts in men and how common are they?

Male patient and doctor in discussion in exam room
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Genital warts, also known as condylomata acuminata, are small, fleshy, pinkish-white cauliflower-shaped growths that can result from an infection by the human papillomavirus (HPV). It is one of the most common sexually transmitted infections. There are many strains of HPV which can infect the genitalia, mouth and throats of men and women.

What Causes Genital Warts?

Genital warts are caused by the human papilloma virus.

There are more than 100 types of HPV, one third of which are spread through sexual contact.

How Many People have Genital Warts?

HPV is one of the most common sexually transmitted diseases. According to the Department of Health and Human Services, it is estimated that there are 5.5 million new cases of HPV in the US each year. At least 24 million Americans are infected.

What Do Genital Warts Look Like?

Genital warts are small, fleshy, pinkish-white cauliflower-shaped growths. Men infected with HPV do not get the warts as often as women do. When they do, the warts usually appear on the tip of the penis, but may also appear on the shaft. Warts can also appear on the scrotum or around the anus (warts may spread to the area around the anus even without anal sex as a cause). Sometimes genital warts can be seen around and inside the mouth and in the throat of those who have had oral sex with an infected person.

For pictures of genital warts click here.

Can Have HPV But Not Have Genital Warts?

Yes. The National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases (NIAID) has said that nearly half of the women infected with HPV had no obvious symptoms. Just because you do not have obvious symptoms does not mean you cannot infect others.

Once you become infected, it can take up to three months for the genital warts to appear.

How Are Genital Warts Diagnosed?

Not all warts are obvious to the naked eye. The doctor or health worker may apply a weak vinegar-like solution that causes any warts to turn white. An internal examination of the anus may be carried out to check for hidden warts. If you believe you have been in contact with HPV, even if you do not have any warts, see a doctor who will be able to advise you on treatment.

What Is the Treatment for HPV and Genital Warts?

Unfortunately, like most viruses, there is no treatment that will get rid of the HPV virus itself. There are HPV vaccines that are approved for boys and girls ages 9 to 26 that can help prevent infection. 

Genital warts can be treated, but they may reappear at a later stage. Treatment for genital warts depends on size and location. Treatment options include:

  • Imiquimod, an immune-response cream applied to the infected area.
  • 20% podophyllin anti-mitotic solution applied to the infected area and washed off later.
  • 0.5% podofilox solution applied to the infected area.
  • 5% 5-fluorouracil cream.
  • Trichloroacetic acid (TCA).

The treatments should not be painful, but if they are consult your doctor or health advisor.

If your partner is pregnant, the podophyllin or 5-fluorouracil treatments should not be used.

Small warts can be surgically treated by laser, cryosurgery (freezing them off) or electrocautery (burning them off).

The anti-viral drug alpha-interferon can also be used and is injected directly into the warts; however the drug is very expensive and seems to have little effect on preventing recurrence of the warts. You may require more than one type of treatment to make the warts go away permanently.

How Can I Prevent HPV, Genital Warts or Infecting Others?

There are HPV vaccines that are approved for boys and girls ages 9 to 26 that can help prevent infection. By age 26 and after, most people have already come into contact with the HPV virus, and so the vaccine is not useful.

Avoiding all direct contact with the virus can prevent infection.

As previously mentioned, there is no treatment currently available for the HPV virus itself. The genital warts, a symptom of the disease, do respond to treatment, but they can reoccur. Treatment for genital warts should be sought and completed before having sexual contact.

Can Condoms Prevent Genital Wart Infection?

A condom can provide some protection as long as it covers the area affected by warts. It has also been suggested that condoms covering the affected area will help reduce the risks of cervical cancer linked to HPV.

Good hygiene is important. Keep your genitals clean and dry and do not use scented soaps and bath oils, as these may irritate the warts. If your partner uses vaginal deodorants she should know that this too can be an irritant.

Can HPV and Genital Warts Cause Complications?

Yes. It is estimated that 99 percent of cervical cancers are caused by HPV. Some types of HPV can also cause anal and penis cancer, as well as vulvar cancer.

If your partner has abnormal cervical cells detected in a PAP test, it is important that she have regular pelvic examinations and further PAP tests so that any cancer can be treated as quickly as possible. (Early detection of cancer increases cure rates).

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