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What are warts?

Common warts are noncancerous skin growths caused by a virus called the human papillomavirus (HPV). This virus causes a rapid growth of cells on the outer layer of your skin. Common warts are different from moles, and they are not cancerous. In fact, they're usually harmless and often disappear on their own. But, you may find common warts bothersome or embarrassing and want treatment to remove them.

Usually common warts grow on your hands or fingers. Treatment helps prevent common warts from spreading to other parts of your body or to other people. But common warts may recur after treatment, and they may be a persistent problem.

Common warts are:

  • Small, fleshy, grainy bumps
  • Flesh-colored, white, pink or tan
  • Rough to the touch

Common warts usually occur:

  • On your hands
  • On your fingers
  • Near your fingernails

Warts may occur singly or in multiples. They may bleed if picked or cut. They often contain one or more tiny black dots, which are sometimes called wart "seeds," but are actually small, clotted blood vessels. Common warts are usually painless. Young adults and children appear to be affected most often.

How do you get warts?

You get warts through direct contact with the human papillomavirus (HPV). There are 100 or more types of HPV. Several types of HPV have been implicated in the cause of cancer of the cervix. Many more types tend to cause warts on your skin. Common warts usually occur on your hands, fingers or near your fingernails. Other types of HPV tend to cause warts in other places, such as on the soles of the feet, the genitals, or the face and legs.

Are warts contagious?

Yes. Like other infectious diseases, wart viruses pass from person to person. You can also get the wart virus by touching a towel or object used by someone who has the virus. Each person's immune system responds to warts differently, meaning not everyone who comes in contact with HPV develops warts. Some types of warts - such as genital warts - are quite contagious, but the chance of catching common warts from another person is small.

If you have warts, you can spread the virus to other places on your own body. Warts usually spread through breaks in your skin, such as a hangnail or scrape. Biting your nails also can cause warts to spread on your fingertips and around your nails. Because warts shed HPV, new warts can appear as quickly as old ones go away.

Where can you get warts?

Other types of HPV tend to cause warts in other places:

  • Plantar warts These occur on the plantar surfaces, or soles, of your feet. They usually look like flesh-colored or light brown lumps with tiny black dots in them. These dots are small, clotted blood vessels.
  • Genital warts These are among the most common types of sexually transmitted diseases. They can appear on your genitals, in your pubic area, or in your anal canal. In women, genital warts can also grow inside the vagina.
  • Flat warts These warts are smaller and smoother than other warts. They generally occur on your face or legs. They're more common in children and teens than in adults.


Types of Warts

Plantar Warts

Plantar warts are noncancerous skin growths on the soles of your feet caused by the human papillomavirus (HPV), which enters your body through tiny cuts and breaks in your skin.

Plantar warts often develop beneath pressure points in your feet, such as the heels or balls of your feet. Most plantar warts aren't a serious health concern, but they may be bothersome or painful, and they can be resistant to treatment. You may need to see your doctor to remove plantar warts. Plantar warts are often mistaken for corns or calluses.

To make the distinction, look for:

  • Small, fleshy, grainy bumps on the soles of your feet
  • Hard, flat growths with a rough surface and well-defined boundaries
  • Gray or brown lumps with one or more black pinpoints, which are actually small, clotted blood vessels, not "wart seeds"
  • Bumps that interrupt the normal lines and ridges in the skin of your feet

Plantar warts are more likely to appear on the feet of people with: Multiple exposures to the virus, damaged or cut skin, weakened immune systems For reasons doctors don't understand, some people are more susceptible to the wart-causing virus, just as some people are more likely to catch a cold. Children and teenagers tend to be especially vulnerable to warts.

Genital Warts

Genital warts, also known as condylomata acuminata or venereal warts, are one of the most common types of sexually transmitted diseases. As the name suggests, genital warts affect the moist tissues of the genital area. They may look like small, flesh-colored bumps or have a cauliflower-like appearance. Genital warts may be as small as 1 millimeter in diameter - smaller than the width of a ballpoint pen refill - or they may multiply into large clusters.

In women, genital warts can grow on the vulva, the walls of the vagina, the area between the external genitals and the anus, and the cervix. In men, they may occur on the tip or shaft of the penis, the scrotum or the anus. Genital warts can also develop in the mouth or throat of a person who has had oral sexual contact with an infected person.

Although genital warts can be treated with medications and surgery, they are a serious health concern. The virus that causes them - the human papillomavirus (HPV) - has been associated with cervical cancer. It has also been linked with other types of genital cancers, such as cancer of the penis.

When to call us about warts

  • If your warts are painful or change in appearance or color.
  • If warts persist, multiply or recur, despite home treatment, or
  • If warts interfere with your activities.
  • If you have diabetes or a circulatory disorder, don't try to treat any plantar warts at home.

It's possible for more serious lesions to crop up on your feet, including cancerous tumors called carcinomas and melanomas. If you can't confidently identify your lump, let the dermatologists at Advanced Dermatology examine you.

Most common warts don't require medical treatment, but some people choose to have their warts treated because they are bothersome, spreading or a cosmetic concern. Most warts disappear on their own or with home care. Prompt treatment by a doctor or dermatologist, however, may decrease the chance that the warts will spread to other areas of your body or to other people.