Genital Warts



Genital warts are caused by the human papillomavirus (HPV). It is spread during oral, genital, or anal sex with a an infected partner.

Warts can also be spread to an infant during birth from a mother who has genital warts.

Risk Factors

Genital warts are more common in young adults.

Other things that may raise the risk are:

  • Skin to skin contact with an infected person
  • Having more than one sex partner
  • Sex without condoms
  • Sex at an early age
  • Prior STIs



The warts often look like fleshy, raised growths. They can have a cauliflower shape and often appear in groups. Some warts may be flat. The warts may not be easy to see. Warts can take 3 weeks to 18 months to appear after the infection.

Warts usually do not cause problems, but a person may have:

  • Pain
  • Itching
  • Burning
  • Bleeding or irritation on contact


The doctor will ask about symptoms and past health. A physical exam will be done. A pelvic exam may be done in women. This is often enough to make the diagnosis.

A biopsy may be taken to confirm the diagnosis.



There is no cure. The virus stays in the body.

Treatment depends on the size of the warts and where they are on the body. Not all warts need to be treated. Some may go away on their own, but others may stay. Some warts may also get larger or spread.

Warts may be removed by:

  • A cream, ointment, resin, solution, or acid medicine put on the skin
  • Cryosurgery (freezing)
  • Electrocautery (burning)
  • Laser treatment
  • Surgery to remove large warts

The warts may come back after treatment.


To lower the risk of genital warts:

  • Do not have oral, anal, or genital sex with someone who has HPV.
  • Limit sex to one partner.
  • Use latex condoms during sex.
  • Get the HPV vaccine.

This content is reviewed regularly and is updated when new and relevant evidence is made available. This information is neither intended nor implied to be a substitute for professional medical advice. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health provider prior to starting any new treatment or with questions regarding a medical condition.

Edits to original content made by Denver Health.