Genital & Anal Warts
What is it?
Certain types of a virus called Human Papillomavirus (HPV) can cause warts in the genital areas and the anus (bum).
How do you get it?
HPV is transmitted during sexual activity by any skin-to-skin contact, so almost any type of sexual activity may transmit HPV even when there are no visible warts present.
What are the symptoms or signs?
Visible warts are small growths, often rough to the touch. They can feel quite rubbery. In women, the warts typically occur around the vagina and anus (bum). They often don't cause any pain. If you get infected with the types of HPV that can cause warts then they usually show up between two or three months after infection, but they can take much longer to show up.
Diagnosis is usually made by a doctor, nurse or health care worker being able to see the warts. Where there is a good reason to suspect infection or other reasons to test for HPV, then infection can be diagnosed by a doctor by taking a sample of the skin cells and looking at it under a microscope.
How is it treated?
There is currently no cure for genital or anal warts but a doctor or health care worker can remove the warts by freezing, burning, using a laser or by applying liquid wart paints or creams. Warts can come back again after they have been removed, so treatment sometimes requires several visits.
How can it be prevented?
Most studies have shown no protective effect of condoms for HPV.
However, even though condoms do not seem to provide effective protection against HPV infection, condoms have been shown to reduce the risk of the development of genital warts by 30% in women and about 40% in men. Condoms have also been shown to reduce the risk of cervical cancer in women.
There is a vaccine which is highly effective against sexually transmitted HPV. There are programs to try to maximise its uptake by young Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander women. Rates of cervical cancer are very high in Indigenous Australian women so uptake of this vaccine is very important.
HPV (genital and anal warts) & HIV
The rate of growth of genital warts increases if the immune system is damaged. Anal and genital warts may also respond more slowly to conventional treatments in people with HIV.
Damage to the immune system may also lead to an increase in the number of different HPV sub-types and the development of cell abnormalities. People with HIV seem to have a higher chance of developing cancers in the anal and genital areas.
HIV treatment does not seem to reduce the chances of cervical or anal HPV or the development of cell abnormalities. Clearance of HPV appears to be slower or less likely among people who are HIV positive.
HPV & Cancer
Some types of the genital warts virus have been associated with abnormal cell changes on the vagina or anus. Only a few of these viruses are strongly associated with cancer. Smoking significantly adds to the risk of developing these cancers.
Visible warts are less likely to lead to cell changes that precede cancer. The types of wart viruses that are linked to abnormal changes usually cause infections where no warts can be seen (this is known as a 'subclinical' infection).