Genital Warts (HPV) in Women

  • Medical Author:
    Melissa Conrad Stöppler, MD

    Melissa Conrad Stöppler, MD, is a U.S. board-certified Anatomic Pathologist with subspecialty training in the fields of Experimental and Molecular Pathology. Dr. Stöppler's educational background includes a BA with Highest Distinction from the University of Virginia and an MD from the University of North Carolina. She completed residency training in Anatomic Pathology at Georgetown University followed by subspecialty fellowship training in molecular diagnostics and experimental pathology.

  • Medical Editor: Jay W. Marks, MD
    Jay W. Marks, MD

    Jay W. Marks, MD

    Jay W. Marks, MD, is a board-certified internist and gastroenterologist. He graduated from Yale University School of Medicine and trained in internal medicine and gastroenterology at UCLA/Cedars-Sinai Medical Center in Los Angeles.

View the Sexually Transmitted Diseases Slideshow

Quick GuideSexually Transmitted Diseases: HPV, Gonorrhea, Chlamydia, Herpes, HIV

Sexually Transmitted Diseases: HPV, Gonorrhea, Chlamydia, Herpes, HIV

What are the symptoms of genital warts?

Genital warts appear as raised, flesh-colored lumps or bumps. They may also have a corrugated (cauliflower-like) appearance. They may appear anywhere on body surfaces that are exposed in sexual contact, including the vulva, vagina, cervix, or groin in women and the penis, scrotum, thigh, or groin in males. Size of the warts may vary, and multiple warts may be present at the same time.

In many cases genital warts do not cause any symptoms, but they are sometimes associated with itching, burning, or tenderness. They may result in localized irritation, depending upon their anatomic location. Women who have genital warts inside the vagina may experience symptoms such as bleeding following sexual intercourse or an abnormal vaginal discharge. Rarely, bleeding or urinary obstruction may occur if the wart involves the urethral opening.

How is HPV infection diagnosed?

HPV sometimes can be suspected by changes that appear on a Pap smear, since pap smears identify infected abnormal cells that may be precursors to cancer. While HPV infection can lead to precancerous changes in the cervix that are recognized on the Pap smear, the Pap smear itself cannot definitely establish the diagnosis of HPV infection, unless special testing is carried out on the material obtained from the Pap. When there is an abnormal Pap smear, the doctor often will do advanced testing on the material to determine if, and which kind, of HPV may be present. HPV also can be detected if a biopsy (for example, from a genital wart or from the uterine cervix) is sent to the laboratory for analysis.

Is there a DNA test for types of HPV infection?

In 2009, the U.S. FDA approved the first DNA tests for diagnosis of the common cancer-causing HPV types in cervical samples. Two tests known as Cervista HPV 16/18 and Cervista HPV HR, are used to diagnose the presence of DNA from the two most common HPV types associated with cancer. These are HPV types 16 and 18, as well as other "high risk" or cancer-associated HPV types. These tests do not replace standard Pap testing or clinical examination, and they are used in combination with traditional screening methods to help estimate a woman's risk and aid in management decisions.

Medically Reviewed by a Doctor on 11/9/2015

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  • Genital Warts (HPV) - Effective Treatments

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  • Genital Warts - Symptoms

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