Genital warts - causes and treatment

Written by: Dr Moumita Chattopadhyay
Edited by: Emma McLeod

Genital warts are usually transmitted in adults via sexual activity. Many people are unaware of what to look for and a dermatologist with experience in vulval skin conditions, such as Dr Moumita Chattopadhyay, will be able to identify genital warts and recommend a course of treatment. Here she explains what to expect.

A women's body from her waist to her thighs. She is wearing a pink dress and placing her hands over her dress in front of her genital area as if to cover it.


What causes genital warts

The low-risk human papillomavirus (HPV) is the main cause of genital warts. There are various types of HPV, and the ones usually associated with genital warts are type 6 and 11. Most types of HPV are harmless and can disappear within a few weeks without medical assistance. However, if you have genital warts, you’ll need treatment.


It's important to note that genital warts can be contracted from skin-to-skin contact or from sharing sex toys, not only from penetrative sex. Therefore, a condom does not offer 100% protection against HPV and therefore genital warts.


How is it diagnosed? What to look for.

You can have the genital warts virus without knowing so. When genital warts appear, they can look like:

  • Small papules – these elevated skin spots range from small to large. They may appear like a dome or be flat.
  • Cauliflower shaped growths – these are skin coloured and bumpy.


They can appear at any site in the vulva or the vagina, but the most common site is the fold of skin at the bottom of the entrance to the vagina – this is medically referred to as the posterior fourchette.


Treatment for genital warts

If you are diagnosed with genital warts, the treatment you receive depends on:

  • The number of warts
  • The size of the warts
  • The position of the warts


Your dermatologist can prescribe you with topical treatments such as:

  • Imiquimod 5% cream – an immune response modifier which also reduces the chance of recurrence
  • Podophyllotoxin - a cream
  • Trichloroacetic acid – a chemical treatment
  • Liquid nitrogen cryotherapy – this freezes warts to destroy them

When topical treatments might not work

If a patient has a suppressed immune system due to already-existing conditions or treatments, it’s possible that standard treatment won’t work and the warts won’t be removed. This is because an immune response against the virus is essential in order to remove warts.


Furthermore, if the warts become keratinized, meaning the skin becomes filled with keratin and is hard, they may not respond well to treatment, and therefore your dermatologist may need to perform surgery to curette them off.


Cervical smears

If you have genital warts, you can get other types of HPV which cause cervical diseases. For this reason, it’s very important that you receive a cervical smear test.


Dr Moumita Chattopadhyay is highly experienced in various fields of dermatology including acne, psoriasis, moles, skin cancer, eczema as well as Lichen sclerosis and other vulval skin conditions. Don’t hesitate to book a consultation with Dr Chattopadhyay via her Top Doctors profile to resolve any doubts concerning your skin.

By Dr Moumita Chattopadhyay

Dr Moumita Chattopadhyay is a leading consultant dermatologist based in Birmingham providing evidence based expert advice on all aspects of general adult dermatology with specialist interests in medical dermatology, vulval dermatology, and skin cancer. She also specialises in aesthetic dermatology, delivering anti-aging treatment with expertise. Her skin surgeries are performed to a very high standard. She takes pride in delivering compassionate and holistic care tailored to individual patient needs.

Dr Chattopadhyay qualified in medicine and completed postgraduate training in dermatology in India, before undergoing specialist dermatology training in London. She then entered into her specialist dermatology programme at Cambridge University Hospitals, where she achieved her CCT and became a Fellow of the Royal College of Physicians (FRCP). She has worked in acclaimed hospitals in the UK and is currently based at the Birmingham Skin Centre where she is also the Clinical Governance Lead.

Dr Chattopadhyay has a keen interest in modern laser technology and practises cosmetic dermatology techniques. She is accredited by the Royal College of Physicians as an educational supervisor for dermatology trainees and takes a keen interest in medical education. She has written a number of peer-reviewed papers, co-written chapters in textbooks, and has numerous presentations at both national and international level.

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