Most human papillomavirus, or HPV, infections cause no signs or symptoms, which can make it difficult to diagnose. However, some strains, or types, of HPV can cause genital warts. Dr. Alvarado, can you tell us more?
Absolutely, Dr. Mayzik. Genital warts may appear within weeks or months after sexual contact with a person infected with HPV, but in rare cases, it can take years after exposure for warts to develop.
Genital warts usually look like small bumps or groups of bumps in the genital area. In some cases, they can also occur on the lips, mouth, tongue, or throat. Warts may look like flesh-colored spots that are raised or flat, or they may be growths that look like the top of a cauliflower. Some genital warts are too small to see.
A provider can easily diagnose HPV if genital warts are present. But for people who have no symptoms, diagnosis may be more difficult, particularly for men.
An HPV DNA test can be used to screen for the types of HPV that cause cervical cancer, but this test is only recommended for screening in women over the age of 30. Women under 30 are typically only tested for HPV if they have an abnormal Pap test result.
Unfortunately, there is no approved HPV test for men, and no approved test to find HPV anywhere else on the body besides the cervix. For those whose HPV goes away on its own, this isn't a problem. But when an HPV infection persists for many years, a person may not know they have the virus until they've developed more serious problems, such as cancer.