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Genital Warts Complications

Genital wart complications may be life-threatening.

Left untreated, there are some serious genital wart complications, like the development of cervical cancer. [©Shutterstock, 2010]
©Shutterstock, 2010
Left untreated, there are some serious genital wart complications, like the development of cervical cancer.

Genital Warts Complications

Genital warts complications range from mild and annoying to concerning and life-threatening. For instance, an increase in growths during pregnancy may be a nuisance, but not fatal, while cervical cancer due to untreated human papillomavirus the virus that causes genital warts can be much more dangerous. With proper treatment, however, many of these genital warts complications can be eased or eliminated altogether.

Genital Warts Complications and Cancer

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, genital warts top the list of risk factors for cervical cancer or uterine cancer. However, this doesn't mean every woman with genital warts will develop cancer. Not even close.

Some types of genital warts, or to be more specific, subtypes of human papillomavirus (HPV), are more strongly associated with cancer. While cervical cancer is the most common type of cancer associated with HPV, anal cancer, oral cancer, vulvar cancer and cancer of the penis may also be caused by HPV. Developing cancer from HPV is rare, however. The American Social Health Association reports that the American Cancer Society projected approximately 1,750 anal cancer cases would occur in 2005; it's estimate for penile cancer that year was just 0.2 percent.

The best way for patients to avoid this type of genital wart complication is to schedule routine physical exams, which should include an annual Pap smear for women. A Pap smear is really the best way to test for HPV, considering that some infected women will never show signs of genital warts. Others won't notice since the growths, which are often flesh colored, can be difficult to spot with the naked eye and rarely cause any discomfort or itching.

An abnormal Pap smear does not mean a woman has genital warts, HPV or cancer, however. This test result could just be due to hormone changes, a yeast infection or other irritation. A doctor may follow up an abnormal Pap with other tests, such as a colposcopy, which is a close-up look at the cervix and other genital areas. A doctor might also order a biopsy, where a small tissue sample is taken from the cervix and examined for abnormal cells.

There is still no specific test to screen men for HPV. A doctor can conduct a careful visual examination to check for signs of genital warts but this isn't a foolproof method, as both men and women have normal bumps in the genital area that can resemble genital warts. Although uncommon, a doctor may suggest an anal Pap test to diagnose HPV in men with a history of receptive anal sex.

Genital Warts Complications During Pregnancy and Birth

Pregnant women who have had genital warts but had them removed or treated will likely not experience any complications related to genital warts during pregnancy or childbirth. Complications can occur, however. For example, pregnancy can trigger a dormant HPV infection to become active again. Some pregnant women who are infected with genital warts may see an increase in the size or number of genital warts that appear. The warts could become so enlarged that the woman has trouble urinating, especially if they are located on the vaginal tract.

During childbirth, genital warts on the vaginal wall may reduce the elasticity of the vaginal tissues, which need to stretch during labor. Although very uncommon, infants born to women with genital warts may have growths on the larynx, which can be a serious, even life-threatening condition. These growths could create an airway obstruction that would result in the baby needing surgery to clear the airways.

Healthcare professionals may first suggest removing and treating any growths during pregnancy and before childbirth because of these genital warts complications. Alternative birthing methods, like a Cesarean section, wouldnt typically be required for women with genital warts unless the growths obstruct the birth canal. The bottom line is that a patient should discuss any concerns with her healthcare provider to ensure she has a healthy pregnancy and healthy baby. The good news for pregnant women dealing with genital warts is that the warts frequently go away after delivery.

Genital Warts Complications During Sex

The most obvious genital warts complication during sex is that genital warts and HPV can be passed on to a sexual partner something that should be disclosed and discussed at length before any sexual contact occurs. After being diagnosed and treated for genital warts, the infected person should wait a couple of weeks to let the area heal before having sexual intercourse. Patients should remember that even with the proper protection (latex condoms being the safest bet), genital warts and HPV can still be transmitted between partners.

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