Genital warts are professionally referred to as condylomata acuminata. It is a common problem that often leads to dermatological examination, especially to exclude more serious conditions.
Genital warts are caused by viral infection; the virus belongs into the HPV (Human Papilloma Virus) group. HPV viruses are responsible for many lesions of skin and mucous membranes including banal warts or very serious cervical cancer. The virus is usually transmitted during a sexual intercourse including anal and oral sex. During oral sex, the virus may get into a mouth but that is not so common. The incubation period between the infection and occurrence of the genital warts lasts from weeks to months.
Genital warts appear as clusters of smaller or larger warts located in the outer genitalia – in men on the penis and scrotum, in women around the vagina on the labia. The lesion can occur in around the anus, especially when the virus has been transmitted during anal sex. The warts may sometimes grow into bulky cauliflower-like lesions that macerate and smell.
The diagnosis is usually done by a dermatologist. In unclear cases, it is possible to remove a small sample from the lesion for histological examination. This is done when we need to exclude early stages of vulvar cancer in females.
The best prevention is a responsible sexual behavior including protected sex. The risk of infection is further lowered by special vaccine against the HPV viruses. The vaccine must be administered before a person is exposed to the virus, thus ideally before the beginning of sexual life. The vaccine only protects against the most common subtypes of HPV virus.
The genital warts sometime disappear even without a treatment but they have a tendency to recur. The reason is that HPV virus stays present in the body even despite locally successful therapy. The local therapy consists either of pharmacotherapy (local administration of substance such as trichloroacetic acid orpodophylin), usage of physical methods (laser therapy, cryotherapy) or even a classical surgical intervention. Surgery is reserved for more severe cases of genital warts and the lesions are removed in local anesthesia. Immunotherapy is a quite new method that means application of special substances simulating the immune system to make it more effective against the viral particles.