Health complications and risks of HPV

Genital and anal warts

Many people have warts on their hands, arms, legs and bottom of the feet. Some low risk types of HPV cause genital and anal warts (types 6 and 11). In women, genital warts can appear on the vulva, urethra, cervix, vagina, anus or thighs. In men, warts can appear on the penis, scrotum, anus or thighs.

Genital and anal warts appear as unsightly cauliflower-like growths. They are usually painless but can cause itching or a burning sensation and occasionally, minor bleeding following a bowel movement.

Genital and anal warts are very contagious and are spread during oral, vaginal or anal sex with an infected partner. Most people (66%) who have sexual contact with a partner infected by genital warts will develop warts themselves usually within three months of contact. These warts may last for years and eventually go away. Sometimes they come back.

For women who are pregnant, genital warts can cause problems as sometimes they get larger, making it difficult to urinate; sometimes they make the vagina less elastic and cause obstruction during delivery. In rare cases, infants born to women with genital warts develop warts in their throats and their genitals - a potentially life-threatening condition for a baby.

People who contract genital and anal warts are usually self-conscious and may become embarrassed of having intimate relations. They can also cause depression and sexual dysfunction. Some long-term relationships can be disrupted as people become afraid of rejection from their sexual partner.

HPV is not related to HIV (the human immunodeficiency virus, which can cause AIDS). However, people with HIV have weakened immune systems and are therefore likely to be infected with various germs, including one or more types of HPV.

View photos of genital warts (warning: graphic content)

Cancers

High risk types of the HPV virus cause most cervical cancers and 70% of these cancers are caused by HPV types 16 and 18. These types may also be linked to anal and penile cancers.

In women, high risk types of the HPV virus can infect cells on the vagina and cervix where they can't be seen. These lesions are considered to be pre-cancerous and can be detected by a Pap test.

HPV Information Fact Sheets

FAQ

Most people who have sexual contact with a partner infected by genital warts can develop warts fairly quickly, within three months of contact.