Most men have never heard of human papillomavirus (HPV), but over half of sexually active men who contract the virus at some time in their life. In the majority of cases, there are no symptoms and the virus goes away on its own within two years, but if the infection lasts, it can cause genital warts. If you are a man, concerned about genital warts, read on to find out information on the causes, locations, symptoms, and available treatments and medications for genital warts.
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Causes of Genital Warts in Men
There are well over 100 types of HPV, but only a few that can cause genital warts. The HPV viruses that cause warts is extremely contagious, and can be passed on through sexual contact. Over 65% of people who have sex with a person who has genital warts will also get them. Read here if you want to find out more about the risks of having sex with genital warts.
The size of genital warts ranges from tiny, to the point of being invisible to the naked eye, to quite large when several warts cluster together. Most genital warts are caused by HPV types 6 and 11, and will grow for a period of six months. A detailed genital warts definition can be found here.
It is not always simple to identify the source of the infection, as warts typically appear two to three months after contracting the infection. Some men have no symptoms for years.
Several behaviors increase the risk of contracting HPV, including:
- Engaging in unprotected sex, especially with many different people.
- Engaging in sex with a person whose sexual history is not known.
- Having sexual contact at very young ages.
- Experiencing stress, or having a separate viral infection at the same time.
Common Locations and Symptoms
Genital warts normally occur at specific anatomic locations. In men, the warts are typically seen under the foreskin of an uncircumcised penis, on the penis, shaft, scrotum, and testicles. They can also infect the urethra, and rectal area. Warts, in more than one location, is common.
See a doctor should your partner develop suspect bumps in the genital area.The risk is extremely high for contracting the infection from a single sexual contact with a partner who has genital warts.
The Groin and Rectal Area: In men, genital warts commonly infect moist areas, such as, the groin and anus. More than half of the men who contract HPV and develop genital warts, will have them emerge on the penis shaft. Other locations that genital warts commonly appear on men are on the head of the penis, under the foreskin, between the anus and the scrotum, on the scrotum, in the urethra, and around the anus.
The warts commonly appear as flesh colored, gray, or white sized bumps. They are generally soft-to-the-touch, moist, and can be flat, or elevated above the skin. Some genital warts are smooth, while others feel rough and have darker surfaces. Warts can be present, but hidden by hair, or located in body areas not easily observed. When warts go unnoticed for a period of time, they often grow and spread, forming into a shape that resembles a cauliflower.
Men who engage in deep kissing, or oral sex, with an infected partner, run the risk of developing genital warts on their lips, mouth, tongue, or in their throat. Oral warts can be cosmetically embarrassing, and cause mouth pain if the warts become irritated by certain foods, the tongue, or are bitten accidentally.
Symptoms: Often, genital warts occur without symptoms, aside from the flesh-colored, grey, or white bumps in the genital area. Warts that cluster together take on a distinctive cauliflower appearance. Some men who are infected experience itching or discomfort in the genital area.
Squeezing warts can be very painful, as they have roots that grip the skin.
Can you pop a wart? Read here to find out the answer.
Because there are few symptoms, diagnosis of genital warts is usually confirmed by a physician who bases their findings on the visual appearance, and the patient’s history.
Some warts are so small and flat, that they become visible only after the area is magnified, or they are enhanced using a technique called acetowhitening, which turns the infected area white.
Biopsy is only used to confirm the presence of warts in specific circumstances, such as:
- An ambiguous visual diagnosis.
- Non-responsive therapeutic results.
- The infection continues to spread during treatment.
- The warts are atypical.
- The warts are pigmented, ulcerated, or bleeding.
Treatment Options for Warts in Men
Once spotted, genital warts should be treated as soon as possible to stop their growth and spread. The first option involves medications applied directly onto the skin. Some medications are less likely to damage the skin around the warts and can be applied at home. Topical medications that can damage the skin are generally applied by a physician. Surgical removal of warts is a treatment considered when other options have failed.
Top 2 Topical Creams That Can Be Applied at Home
Topical creams provide relief to many men suffering with genital warts. Aldara and Condylox are both effective medicinal options that can be used at home.
- Aldora (Imiquimod Cream)
Aldora is effective for patients who have a beginning infection, with warts that are small and soft, and have not spread. This product works by stimulating the immune system and supporting its ability to fight the virus and attack the cells that are infected.
- Condylox (Podophyllotoxin Cream)
Podophyllotoxin is extracted from mayapple plant roots. The extract contains antiviral and antiwart properties which inhibit cell division, stopping the growth and spread of warts.
Topical Creams That Must Be Applied by a Physician or Nurse
The following topical creams must be applied by a physician as application may be painful, or have side effects. These creams can treat areas that are difficult to access, or remove a large area of warts quickly.
- Trichloroacetic Acid (TCA)
TCA is a colorless chemical that is extremely caustic to body tissue. The acid removes genital warts by chemical coagulation of proteins.
- Intralesional Interferon
Interferon are manufactured proteins which mimic proteins released by cells in response to a virus. The medicine has both antiviral and antiproliferative properties that inhibit the virus’s ability to replicate.
Fluorouracil is in a class of medications identified as anti-metabolites. The topical cream blocks the growth of cells that cause genital warts. The treatments can cause burning, redness, pain, tenderness, and changes in skin color may occur.
Surgical Procedures to Remove Warts in Men
When topical applications fail to stop the growth and spread of genital warts, or for areas of the body that are difficult to access, other treatments may be considered. One procedure involves freezing the genital warts and three courses of action require surgical methods.
Cryotherapy is typically performed when men have multiple small warts on the penis shaft. The procedure freezes the warts using liquid nitrogen. The treatment is known to cause a mild to moderate burning feeling in many male patients. The healing process takes one to three weeks, and sex should be avoided until the skin around the wart has completely healed. Please see detailed descriptions here.
Small, hardened warts, and particularly those that have combined together to form a cauliflower shape are often excised, cut away. Men undergoing this procedure are given a local anesthetic to numb the area, and the wart is cut away with a surgical scalpel. The resulting incision is stitched together. The area heals in approximately one to three weeks, and sex should be avoided while the area is still tender.
- Laser Surgery
Laser surgery may be advocated for large genital warts that are extremely difficult to access. In men, these warts may be located deep in the anus or the urethra, the tube connecting the bladder to the penis. Laser surgery requires either a local or general anesthetic, prior to burning away the warts. Healing time takes two to four weeks.
Electrosurgery involves using an electrical current to burn away the wart. It is frequently used in conjunction with excision to remove large warts around the anus that have not responded to topical treatments. The procedure can be quite painful and a general or regional anesthetic is used during treatment.
There is not a single male genital warts cure, but the above treatments have been known to have substantial success with wart removal. Genital warts may return at a later date, as the HPV virus still remains in the cells. Infections may become active again, should the immune system be compromised by illness.
Do not despair if you have discovered genital warts. The knowledge is actually a good thing for future healthy choices. Genital warts are almost always benign and usually painless. There are many treatment options available to help relieve the condition, and many men find them entirely successful at removing the unsightly skin warts. Learning about genital warts is the best way to take care of your own health, as well as, take care of others you care about.