Physical Examination for Genital Warts (Human Papillomavirus) for Men
British Columbia Specific Information
Genital warts are a sexually transmitted infection (STI) caused by infection from the human papillomavirus (HPV). Genital warts can be treated using topical medication or freezing. These treatments do not get rid of the HPV infection; a person who has been treated may still pass it on, even if the warts are no longer visible. For information about genital warts and HPV, see HealthLinkBC File #101a Human Papillomavirus (HPV) Infection and Genital Warts. Please speak with your health care provider to discuss the best treatment option for you.
You may also be interested in exploring HPV vaccination. Health Canada approves the HPV vaccines Cervarix® (HPV2) and Gardasil® (HPV4) for use in women up to the age of 45, and Gardasil® for men ages 9 and older. Both vaccines protect against infection by HPV types that cause most cases of cervical cancer and several less common cancers. Gardasil® also protects against infection by the HPV types that cause most cases of genital warts. The vaccines prevent HPV infection but do not get rid of the infection once it has occurred. For more information on the HPV vaccines, see HealthLinkBC File #101b Human Papillomavirus (HPV) Vaccines.
For more information on STIs, sexual health information, where to get tested and other sexual health services in your area, visit SmartSexResource.
A visual examination of the penis and anus is most important to diagnose genital warts in men. A magnifying glass may be used to help locate abnormal tissue.
Why It Is Done
A physical examination may be done if:
- You have visible genital warts.
- You suspect you may have a human papillomavirus (HPV) infection.
- Your sex partner has been diagnosed with genital warts.
A physical examination often is the only test needed to diagnose genital warts. Some doctors will apply an acetowhite test to make the warts more visible. Your doctor may apply a vinegar solution (weak acetic acid) to the skin to show the difference between normal and abnormal tissue. A slight burning sensation may occur when the acetic acid is applied. The acetowhite test is not routinely recommended to confirm genital warts.
Findings of the physical examination may include the following:
Genital warts are not found.
But HPV may be present even when the visual examination does not locate any warts. HPV can be present in tissue that appears normal.
Genital warts are found on or around the penis, scrotum, or anus.
Treatment is based on:
- The number, size, and location of warts.
- Any problems the warts cause (such as pain or bleeding).
- Your treatment preferences.
A sample (biopsy) of tissue may be taken if genital warts cannot be positively diagnosed with a physical examination. A biopsy can confirm an HPV infection.
What To Think About
Many men do not notice that they have genital warts, even when the warts are visible.
Treating genital warts does not cure a human papillomavirus (HPV) infection. The virus may remain inactive in the body after warts are removed. A person treated for genital warts may still be able to spread the infection. Condoms may help reduce the risk of HPV infection, but they do not protect the entire genital area against skin-to-skin contact.
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