Genital warts are benign tumors that protrude from the skin and the mucous membranes of the lower genital tract and the anal area. This is a sexually transmitted viral disease. They are caused by specific types of HPV, such as HPV 6 & 11. The infection of the skin and mucous membranes results in hyperplasia (thickening) of the epithelium and the formation of the characteristic warty (condylomatous) lesions.
Warts are usually visible to a naked eye examination. They protrude from the skin and are palpable. They are most commonly felt as raised bumps, but they may be so small that they often go unnoticed. Most of them are small in size (less than one centimeter). In some cases, however, they are larger than one centimeter. Warts have many different shapes and colors. They may be skin-colored or lighter (nearly white). Some warts are darker than the skin (more brown or gray). Genital warts on the mucosa (inside the labia, the vagina, cervix and inside the anal canal) are pink or whitish.
It is estimated that the probability of a woman getting genital warts during her lifetime is around 1-3%. The possibility of genital warts is related to the number of sexual partners. Warts are more common in individuals with multiple sexual partners or high-risk sexual partners (who have a history of many sexual partners). This, of course, does not mean that there aren’t people with genital warts who report a single sexual partner.
In women, warts appear in the vulva, perineum, pubic area, vagina, cervix, urethra, the perianal area and the anal canal. In men, they usually on the penis. In uncircumcised men they are more frequent on the glans (head) of the penis. Less frequently they are found on the pubis, scrotum, groin and the perianal area. Anal warts are more frequent in receptive homosexuals, and the anal canal must be checked. A few cases of perianal warts have also been found in men and women who did not report any anal intercourse.
Usually it takes a few weeks or up to several months from the day of the infection until visible lesions appear (4 weeks to 8 months). You may, however, be infected and never get visible warts. In rare cases, warts may appear years after the infection. HPV can remain latent in some people for years or decades before developing warts or cervical disease.