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What is the Connection Between Genital Warts and Cancer?

Article Details
  • Written By: Erin J. Hill
  • Edited By: Bronwyn Harris
  • Last Modified Date: 13 November 2019
  • Copyright Protected:
    2003-2019
    Conjecture Corporation
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Both genital warts and cancer of the cervix are caused by a type of human papilloma virus (HPV), although not the same types. There are various types of HPV and the type which causes genital warts is not the type which causes cervical cancer. HPV that can eventually lead to cancer usually show no signs or symptoms in the patient unless cancer develops. Many of them clear up on their own without treatment.

HPV, in any of its forms, is sexually transmitted. This means that it can be spread through sexual contact, both vaginally and orally. Most women who contract HPV do not know they have been infected, but almost all cervical cancers originate from this virus. The main difference between the viruses which cause genital warts and cancer is that the strains which cause warts do cause symptoms, while the others are mostly harmless.

There is a vaccine available against HPV strains which cause cancer, although not every cancer-causing strain is included. No vaccines are available for the strains which cause warts. The best way to prevent genital warts and cancer is to practice safe sex. This means wearing a condom each and every time sexual intercourse is performed and having partners tested for sexually transmitted diseases before having sex. Condoms are not 100% effective, but they are the best method of prevention aside from complete abstinence.

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Women can be tested for HPV before symptoms are cancer develops, but asymptomatic patients may not always get accurate results. An annual pap smear screening may help to detect some cases of genital warts and cancer, but it is not designed to test for HPV. HPV is not curable, and there is no way to kill it once it is in the body.

Genital warts can be treated during an outbreak, and those who have visible lesions should not have sex until they are gone. HPV generally lies dormant inside the body and may only produce symptoms when the immune system is compromised. This means that patients may go for months or even years before developing symptoms of genital warts. Cervical cancer itself is generally slow growing and can take several years to develop.

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