Human Papillomavirus (HPV) and Genital Warts

HPV is the most common STD and at least 50% of sexually active people will get it at some time in their lives. The body usually clears HPV on its own without causing any problems, but HPV can lead to certain kinds of cancer.

Getting Tested

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Type of Test

Genital warts are typically diagnosed through a visual examination. Your health care provider may apply a weak vinegar solution because the acidity will make the warts turn white and become more visible. The cancer-causing types of HPV can be diagnosed through a sample taken during a Pap test. There is no general test for HPV.

Test Timing

If warts are present, they can be diagnosed immediately through a visual inspection. HPV results associated with a Pap test will likely be available with the Pap results, usually within a week.

  • There are more than 100 different types of HPV. Most of the time there are no symptoms and the virus clears on its own, but several types can cause genital warts or lead to vaginal, anal, throat and cervical cancer. The types of HPV that cause warts do not cause cancer, but they can indicate a higher risk for having the types of HPV that are linked to cancer. The types of HPV that can cause cancer do not show any signs.

  • The body will usually clear HPV infections on its own within a couple of months. Warts can be treated in several different ways:

    1. Patient can apply creams, gels, and solutions (prescribed by health care provider)
    2. A health care provider can freeze them off with liquid nitrogen
    3. A health care provider can burn them off with trichloroacetic acid or bichloroacetic acid
    4. A health care provider can apply a tincture or ointment that will remove the warts
    5. A health care provider can cut off the warts using a scalpel, scissors, curette or electro-surgery

    All of these options may take multiple treatments to completely remove warts.

    Cancer-causing HPV can be monitored in females through regular Pap tests, but there is no specific treatment to eliminate HPV from the body. If the HPV causes abnormal cells to form, a health care provider will likely remove the cells and biopsy them. Depending on the type of abnormalities, the provider may recommend a colposcopy (a special exam that magnifies the walls of the vagina and cervix) or LEEP (a procedure to remove the abnormal cells before they can cause cancer).

  • HPV is extremely common and there is no general test for the virus’ many forms. Although there is no cure, the body will usually clear the HPV infection on its own.

  • As with all STIs, the most effective protection is to abstain from sexual activity or to be monogamous with one long-term partner who is not infected with HPV. There is a vaccine that can prevent most types of HPV that cause genital warts and lead to cancer in males and females.

    For women, regular Pap tests can detect HPV and abnormal cells before cancer can form. Currently there is no approved test to detect HPV in the throat or mouth. Using dental dams or latex condoms for penetrative or oral sex can help reduce the risk of contracting or spreading the infection. But because HPV is spread through skin-to-skin contact, condoms and dental dams do not fully protect against the spread of the virus. Since HPV is so common, and almost every sexually-active person will get HPV at some time in their lives, it is important to protect against the possible health effects of it.