Almost 80 million Americans are infected with the human papillomavirus (HPV), making HPV the most common sexually-transmitted disease (STD) in the United States. Many people with HPV suffer from a relatively common “side effect” of the infection — anal warts.
Like genital warts (which are also caused by HPV), anal warts can be managed. The key is to have them diagnosed as early as possible.
At our offices in White Plains and on Manhattan’s Upper East Side of New York City, Michael H. Tarlowe, MD, uses the most current diagnostic and treatment techniques to help patients manage their anal warts, providing custom care options aimed at improving patients’ overall health and wellness. If you have anal warts, here’s what you should know.
Symptoms of anal warts
Anal warts begin as very tiny lumps or bumps, growing larger over time. Warts often blend in with your skin tone, but sometimes, they may appear darker or lighter than the surrounding skin. While they’re small, the symptoms they cause can be subtle.
When symptoms do occur, they can include:
- Anal discharge
With larger warts or clusters of small warts, you may notice a bump or lump when showering or when cleaning after a bowel movement. Sometimes, even larger warts cause no noticeable symptoms.
Because warts can be hard to diagnose on your own, it’s important to schedule an office visit at the first sign of any symptom, or if you have genital warts, you’ve been diagnosed with HPV, or you’ve had high-risk sex.
Importance of early diagnosis
Of course, just because anal warts may not cause any pain or other symptoms, that doesn’t mean it’s OK to let them go untreated. Without medical attention, your warts could grow and become symptomatic, causing pain, bleeding, and other issues.
Plus, without treatment, warts can spread to other areas of your body, including your genitals. Not only does that mean you’re more likely to experience unpleasant symptoms, but when additional areas are affected, it may also make it easier for you to spread the virus to other people.
Anal warts and cancer
Keeping warts from spreading and growing is important. But probably the biggest reason to have warts diagnosed early is to help reduce your risk of developing anal cancer. The American Cancer Society says HPV infection is the “most important risk factor” for developing anal cancer, which affects almost 9,000 people each year in the US. It’s estimated that about 91% of all cases of anal cancer are caused by HPV.
The American Cancer Society also notes that while anal cancer is relatively uncommon, both the disease rate and its death rate have been rising in recent years, making treatment of anal warts even more important.
Having anal warts diagnosed early means you can begin managing them in the initial stages, before the warts have a chance to progress to cancerous stages. And of course, by reducing your risk of spreading anal warts, you could also reduce your partner’s cancer risks, as well.
Diagnosis and treatment
Diagnosing anal warts is a relatively simple process. Dr. Tarlowe asks you about any symptoms you’ve had, and he reviews your medical history, including any potential exposures to HPV.
Then he examines the area around your anus, and he may also use a slim, lighted scope called an anoscope to look inside the anal canal. In a very few cases, he might take a small tissue sample for additional examination under a microscope.
Once the diagnosis is confirmed, your treatment can begin. Options include prescription topical creams or acid treatment. He may turn to surgical removal if the warts are very large or located inside the anal canal.
Schedule a checkup
Diagnosing anal warts early means you could significantly reduce your risks of cancer and of transmitting the infection to others. To schedule your evaluation with Dr. Tarlowe, call our office or book an appointment online.