Genital warts are warts that form on the skin of the genital area. They are caused by certain subtypes of the human papilloma virus (HPV), the same virus that causes warts on other areas of the body. Genital warts are spread through sexual intercourse, so they are classified as a sexually transmitted disease (STD), and can affect both men and women. Genital warts also are known as condyloma acuminata or venereal warts. They can develop anywhere near the vagina, cervix, genitals or rectum.
Because genital warts can take six months to develop, you can have the infection without having any symptoms. Human papilloma virus also causes virtually all cases of cervical cancer worldwide. The subtypes that are most likely to cause cancer are different from those that usually cause warts. However, many people are infected with more than one subtype. Therefore, people with genital warts are more likely to be infected with a cancer-causing virus as well.
Genital warts appear on moist surfaces, especially at the entrance of the vagina and rectum in women. In men and women, they can appear anywhere in the genital or anal area. They may be small, flat, flesh-colored bumps or tiny, cauliflower-like bumps. Individual warts usually measure 1 millimeter to 2 millimeters in diameter – much smaller than the diameter of a pencil eraser – but clusters can be quite large. In some cases, warts can be so small that you can't see them. Genital warts may not cause any symptoms, or they may cause itching, burning, tenderness or pain.