Genital Warts In Women: What's HPV & What Is The Treatment?

Andy Boysan
Andy BoysanBPharmDirector & Superintendent Pharmacist

Genital warts are a very common sexually transmitted infection (STI), caused by the human papilloma virus (HPV), which is very easy to catch. If you are sexually active, the chances of you contracting genital warts at some point are relatively high. But what do you need to look out for, and how can you treat them?

In the guide below, we will be looking specifically at what genital warts mean for women, genital warts symptoms for women, and how to treat genital warts in women.

What are genital warts?

Genital warts are a very common sexually transmitted infection (STI). In fact, it is the most common sexually transmitted infection in the world.

Genital warts can affect both men and women, and are very easy to contract as they are easily passed through sexual skin-to-skin contact.

Genital warts are a viral STI, caused by the human papillomavirus (HPV). This virus can be transmitted even when there are no visible warts.

Genital HPV infection

HPV is part of a family of over a hundred different strains of virus, which cause warts on various different parts of the body, such as your hands, face, feet, or fingers.

HPV infection causes genital warts. Two strains of HPV, in particular, account for approximately 90% of genital warts. These are type 6 and type 11.

Genital warts are the result of genital HPV infection. They show as skin growths, little bumps, protrusions, or changes, that are found in the anal or genital region.

Find out how to identify them by reading our guide to genital warts symptoms.

Where are genital warts found on women?

Genital warts are most commonly found on the following places on women:

  • Around the opening of the vagina (the vulva)
  • Inside or around the anus
  • Inside the vagina
  • On the neck of the womb (the cervix)
  • On the upper thighs

If you have internal genital warts (inside your vagina, urethra, or anus), you should see your GP as these may need more urgent treatment to stop complications.

Genital warts symptoms in women

When it comes to genital warts, women can look for a few different symptoms that indicate infection:

  • Small fleshy lumps or bumps in the genital area
  • Unusual growths that you haven’t noticed before
  • Warts on their own, or in clusters
  • Itching in the genital area
  • Discomfort in the genital area
  • Irritation in the genital area
  • Some bleeding (though unusual)

Genital warts in women can present themselves in a number of different ways — they may be flat or raised, smooth or bumpy, and can range in colour from skin-colour, to white, to grey or darker.

They can also vary in size, and can be very small. You might need to use a mirror to see them properly.

If you spot any of these symptoms and signs, it is probably an indication that you have genital warts. The next step is to get yourself checked. You can do this at a sexual health clinic, where a doctor or nurse will diagnose genital warts and help you treat them.

How are genital warts transmitted?

Skin-to-skin contact is the most common method of transmitting genital warts, and this most commonly comes as the result of sexual intercourse.

You can get genital warts from types of sexual transmission such as:

  • Vaginal sex
  • Anal sex
  • Non-penetrative contact between genitalia
  • Sharing of sex toys
  • Oral sex

Vaginal and anal sex are the most common ways to catch genital warts and HPV.

Although genital warts can be transmitted through oral sex, this is a much rarer way to catch them.

It is important to note that genital warts are not transmitted via activities such as kissing; nor are they passed on by touching shared items like cutlery, towels or toilet seats.

Can transmission of genital warts in women be prevented?

Genital warts is a common sexually transmitted infection, but you can stop genital warts from being passed on in a few different ways.

If you want to prevent yourself from getting or transmitting genital warts as a woman, you can do a few different things, including:

  • Use a condom when you have sex
  • Avoid having sex if you know you have genital warts or are being treated for genital warts
  • Avoid sharing sex toys, or wash or use them with a condom if you do

Using condoms is the most effective way of lowering the risk of infection, because it reduces the amount of skin-to-skin contact.

However, a condom is unable to completely block skin-to-skin contact, meaning there is still a risk of infection when engaging in sexual intercourse.

Can genital warts in women be treated?

The short answer is yes, genital warts in women can be treated.

There are a number of different options for treating genital warts. We will go into them in more detail in the section below.

How to treat genital warts in women

There are a few different methods of treating genital warts. These include:

  • Aldara cream: you apply the cream to your warts every other night in weekly cycles for 8 - 12 weeks. Aldara is suitable for genital and anal warts. Once warts are treated with Aldara, they are less likely to return. Click through to find out more about Aldara side effects or to read our customer reviews on Aldara Cream.
  • Warticon cream: you apply the cream to your warts three days a week, in weekly cycles for 8 - 16 weeks. Warticon is only suitable for genital warts. Warticon has no effect on the warts coming back.
  • Freezing: this is where a doctor or nurse freezes your genital warts using liquid nitrogen. This is known as cryotherapy. Liquid nitrogen is very cold, and causes warts to freeze off. You can have this treatment at a sexual health clinic.
  • Surgical excision: you can also have warts surgically cut away. A local anaesthetic will be applied before surgical removal.
  • Laser therapy: you can have your genital warts burnt or lasered off by a nurse or doctor.

The type of treatment that is best for you will depend on what the warts look like, how many there are, and the location. A doctor or nurse will be able to provide medical advice on how best to proceed. You can read more about the different genital warts treatments available on our dedicated condition and treatments page.

Are genital warts serious for women?

While genital warts are not life-threatening, they can cause soreness, irritation, mental stress, anguish, or embarrassment. Lots of women find genital warts affect their confidence and can be very stressful.

There is also no cure for genital warts. This means that there is always a risk that they may return (if the virus stays in your body), or you may develop symptoms years later, even following treatment. If you have a weakened immune system, your body may find it harder to get rid of the virus which causes genital warts, which is why they can come back.

Genital warts and cervical cancer

Genital warts do not cause cervical cancer.

Both genital warts and cervical cancer come from the same virus — the human papillomavirus (HPV).

There are many different types of HPV, which can cause different results. Some are more serious than others, such as the types which cause cervical cancer. HPV types 16 and 18 are the ones linked to more than 70% of cervical cancer cases in the UK.

Over 90% of genital warts cases are caused by HPV types 6 and 11. These do not cause cancer.

In the UK, HPV vaccines are offered to girls and boys aged 12 to 13 (in year 8 of school). HPV vaccination can help protect against both cervical cancer and genital warts. The HPV vaccine comes in two doses — it is important to have both to be properly protected.

Cervical screenings (also known as ‘smear tests’ or a ‘pap smear’) are also available for all women and people with a cervix aged 25 to 64. These screenings use a sample of cells to check how healthy your cervix is, and help to detect any abnormal cells in the cervix. This sample will then be used for HPV tests, so check for certain types of the virus which may (very rarely) cause precancerous changes.

These tests are normally recommended every three years — you should get a letter from your GP.

Genital warts during pregnancy

Pregnancy can cause genital warts to grow more quickly and multiply. If they are still infected with the human papillomavirus (HPV) or genital warts, women may also notice warts coming back after a long time, or even appearing for the first time.

If you are pregnant while suffering from genital warts, there is a risk you could transmit the virus to your baby. However, the risk of transmission is low and is not life-threatening, though you may pass your warts on to your baby.

Pregnant women who have or think they may have genital warts should speak to their GP or midwife. For more information, visit our guide on genital warts and pregnancy.

Summary

Genital warts are a very common sexually transmitted infection (STI) usually passed on by vaginal and anal sex.

If you are sexually active, it is important to use a condom to prevent transmission, and it is worth being aware of the main symptoms of infection. When it comes to genital warts, women can look for a few different symptoms such as new small fleshy lumps or bumps, itching, discomfort and irritation in the genital area.

Although genital warts can be very stressful, embarrassing and worrying, they are very treatable. There are lots of treatment options that a sexual health clinic or doctor may recommend, and the right genital warts treatment can get rid of warts quickly and effectively.

If you are a woman who is suffering from genital warts, don’t suffer in silence — seek help and get treatment for them.

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