Condyloma is also known as genital warts. It is considered as a sexually transmitted disease (STD) that appears on the external genital region. It usually appears in the anal region, the upper vaginal portion, and in the urethra of males. The lesion appears raised and pinkish in color.
People with genital warts may not experience any symptoms. However, in certain cases, it can cause tenderness, itching, a frequent urge to urinate, and a burning sensation or pain during intercourse. In the United States alone, there are around half a million newly diagnosed condyloma cases every year. Technically, it is called as condyloma acuminata. They are basically small growths on the genital region, which at times, can resemble like a cauliflower. They mostly occur on or near the genital area. Similar to other types of warts, it is also caused by the human papillomavirus or HPV. Across the globe, HPV is regarded as one of the most common causes of sexually transmitted diseases.
Sexually active individuals become infected with at least one type of the HPV virus at a certain point in their lives. Women are more likely to develop genital warts than men. The virus mostly affects the moist tissues present in the genital region. At certain times, these warts are quite small to be visible at all. There are few strains of HPV, which can lead to genital warts while few others can cause cancer in humans. Vaccination is available to help protect people against certain HPV strains.
The warts are only the tip of the iceberg since the virus is said to lurk in the cells of normal-appearing skin near the warts. They can also be present in the urogenital region. There are certain implications when it comes to the treatment and transmission of genital warts from one person to another. Most of the time, individuals who are infected with the virus are not even aware of it. Warts or lesions may not be visible until an individual's immune system becomes weak or impaired.
Having genital warts can cause emotional and social issues. Individuals may also deal with psychological stress and may feel angry, embarrassed, or guilty. Lately, concerns regarding genital warts have increased due to their link to cancer. Any sexually active individual is at risk of harboring HPV.
Sometimes, flare-ups can be experienced without any obvious triggers. Flare-ups are known to occur because of certain medical conditions or other types of sexually transmitted diseases. It can also happen due to certain medications, which may include chemotherapy drugs. Condyloma can also be triggered by a deficiency of folic acid and vitamin A. Smoking can also increase a woman's risk due to the nicotine by-products, which attack the immune system cells present in the cervical region.
The main cause of condyloma is the human papillomavirus or HPV. There are around 40 different strains of this virus that can specifically affect the genital region. Genital warts are commonly spread through direct sexual intercourse or contact. In most scenarios, the immune system tends to kill the virus, so an individual may not develop any symptoms of the infection.
As mentioned earlier, condyloma is quite contagious. Genital warts are usually known to appear within three months of sexual contact with an infected individual. Certain protective measures are always helpful such as condoms, but again, they do not guarantee total prevention. There are still ongoing studies regarding how the virus progresses in an individual. According to studies, a warm or moist region is more than enough to favor the growth of the virus.
Outbreaks of this virus can also be triggered by an impaired immune system or during pregnancy. Individuals who have a past medical history of genital warts would be at an increased risk of developing certain types of cancer. The HPV virus is known to be associated with up to 90 percent of all cervical malignancies. Moreover, it is also known to play a role in causing cancer of the vagina, penis, vulva, and anus. Although uncommon, there are also chances of the genital warts being transmitted to the newborn baby through the birth canal of an infected mother.
In women, genital warts are known to grow on the vulva, anus, the walls of the vagina, cervix, and the anal canal. In the case of men, genital warts are known to occur at the tip or shaft of the penis, the anus, or scrotum. There can also be instances wherein genital warts may develop in the mouth or the throat of the individual who has performed oral sex with an infected individual. Few of the signs and symptoms of genital warts are:
- Bleeding during intercourse
- Clustered warts that take the shape of a cauliflower
- Itching or discomfort in the genital region
- Presence of small grey or flesh-colored swellings in the genital area
In certain cases, genital warts would be so small and flat that they would be quite difficult to see with the naked eye. In some cases, the genital warts tend to multiply forming large clusters of warts. It is important to visit the doctor if you or your partner has developed bumps or warts in the genital region.
The doctor will be able to tell if your condition is due to genital warts or other types of growth. In women, the doctor may perform a colposcopy to examine the cervix if there are internal outbreaks. When acetic acid is swabbed on the penis or the cervix, the lesions caused by HPV would appear whitish in color.
Colposcopy is a reliable procedure when it comes to the identification of flat lesions, which are otherwise invisible to the naked eye. Doctors can also collect tissue samples for biopsy and carry out tests for HPV genetic material, which are necessary for an accurate diagnosis. A cervical HPV infection may be present in the case of an abnormal PAP smear. As previously mentioned, there are certain strains of HPV that can lead to cervical cancer, while others can cause anal or vulvar cancer. Thus, it is important for women with an abnormal PAP smear to be thoroughly examined by the doctor.
There are a variety of treatment options available for genital warts. The cost of treatment would also vary. The treatment involves three different categories:
- Prescription of Topical Preparations - to destroy wart tissues.
- Surgery - to remove wart tissues.
- Biological-Based Approach - targets the main underlying cause of the issue.
These categories of treatment are not systematically applied because cases of genital warts may vary on each individual. Below are genital wart treatments that can be directly applied to the skin:
1. Podophyllin and Podofilox
Podophyllin is a plant-based resin, which completely destroys genital wart tissues. This solution should be applied by the doctor. Podofilox is said to contain the same kind of active compound, but can be safely applied at home. However, the doctor may want to apply the first application of podofilox and would recommend certain precautionary measures to prevent any kind of irritation to the surrounding region. It is not recommended to apply podofilox internally. Pregnant women should also avoid this medication. Few of the side effects of this medication are skin irritation, pain, or sores.
This medication is in the form of a cream, which is normally used for the treatment of external genital warts and warts in or around the anal canal. Few of its side effects would include a burning sensation, pain, itching, and skin turning red.
Avoid treating genital warts with the help of over-the-counter creams since these medications are not intended for use in moist genital regions.
Larger warts would need to be removed with the help of surgery. Surgery is also necessary for warts that do not respond to any medications, for those who are pregnant, and warts that can be exposed to the baby during the time of delivery. Few of the surgical options would include:
- Surgical Excision - The doctor would use special tools to cut off the warts. A local or general form of anesthesia is given to the patient prior to surgery. After the procedure, the individual may experience some form of pain.
- Cryotherapy or Freezing with Liquid Nitrogen - This method uses liquid nitrogen to freeze genital warts. As the skin heals, the lesions become dry and tend to fall off, thereby allowing for new skin to grow. The individual may need to go through repeated treatments of cryotherapy. The main side effects of this treatment are pain and swelling.
- Laser Option - This method utilizes an intense beam of light. This procedure can be quite expensive and is mostly said to be reserved for tough or extensive warts. Few of the side effects of laser treatments are pain and scarring.
There is a vaccine called Gardasil, which helps protect individuals against four different strains of HPV that can lead to cancer. It is also helpful when it comes to preventing genital warts.
Another vaccine called Cervarix helps protect girls and women against cervical cancer but not genital warts. HPV vaccinations can be given to children before they become sexually active. The side effects of these vaccinations are mostly mild, which would include soreness at the site of injection, flu-like symptoms, headache, and low-grade fever.