First the Facts

  • Anogenital warts are a sexually transmitted infection (STI)
  • They are caused by the human papilloma virus (HPV)
  • They are small painless lumps/bumps that grow on the skin around the penis, vulva, vagina and anus
  • They can be treated with medications (creams and liquids), freezing or surgery

How Are Anogenital Warts Transmitted?

  • By having close skin contact with someone who has warts, including vaginal, anal or oral sex
  • Many people carry HPV without any symptoms, and it may take years for them to develop
  • Anyone can have warts – you do not need to have had a lot of partners
  • If you are pregnant, warts may appear or re-appear as your immune system changes
  • Although some strains of HPV can cause cancer, these are not the same strains that cause warts

How Will I Know If I Have Genital Warts?

  • Painless growths or lumps on the skin around the penis, vulva, testicles or anus
  • Pain, itching or bleeding from your genitals or anus
  • A change in the direction of your pee (urine)
  • Anal irritation, pain or discharge

How Can I Protect Myself?

  • The use of condoms for vaginal and anal sex and condoms or dental dams for oral sex can help to prevent transmission by reducing skin-to-skin contact
  • The HPV vaccination can help prevent your risk of catching HPV and developing warts. It is given free of charge to certain groups of people in the UK:
    • All girls and boys aged 12–13 in England
    • Men who have sex with men (MSM) under 45 years of age
    • Trans men who have sex with men under 45 years of age
    • Trans women who have sex with men under 45 years of age
  • Speak to your doctor or nurse if you think you may be eligible for free HPV vaccination

When Should I See a Doctor or Nurse?

You should see a doctor or nurse if:

  • A partner has told you they have anogenital warts
  • You have any of the symptoms listed above
  • There is no test, and the diagnosis is based on clinical findings

If you have symptoms, you should attend a sexual health or genitourinary medicine clinic.

  • A doctor or nurse will examine the skin around your genitals and anus
  • Most cases can be diagnosed by examination alone
  • If you have a vagina, a speculum examination may be performed to check for warts inside the vaginal canal
  • If you have symptoms of anal warts, a small hollow tube (proctoscope) may be used to check for warts inside the back passage (rectum)
  • Rarely, a sample of tissue may need to be taken (a biopsy) and sent to the lab to confirm the diagnosis

What Happens If I Have Anogenital Warts?

  • The majority of warts clear up on their own, normally within 18 months
  • There is no cure for anogenital warts
  • There are several treatments available that can help with the symptoms:
    • Creams such as podophyllotoxin or imiquimod
    • Freezing (also known as cryotherapy)
    • Surgical removal by cutting, burning or using laser
  • You should use condoms to reduce the chance of passing the infection on to other partners
  • If you are a smoker, cutting down or quitting can improve your response to treatment
  • Warts can sometimes come back, even if you have had treatment before. This can happen years after the warts first appeared

What If I Don’t Get Treated for Anogenital Warts?

  • Although most warts will eventually clear up on their own, you should still see a doctor or nurse
  • Some warts will get bigger and multiply, increasing the chance you will pass them on to other partners


Written by: Dr David Rook and Dr Paula Briggs
Last updated: January 2021

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