Tests and diagnosisBy Mayo Clinic staff
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Because it's often difficult to detect genital warts, your doctor may apply a mild acetic acid solution to your genitals to whiten any warts. Then, he or she may view them through a special microscope.
For women, it's important to have regular pelvic exams and Pap tests, which can help detect vaginal and cervical changes caused by genital warts or the early signs of cervical cancer — a possible complication of genital HPV infection.
During a Pap test, your doctor will use a device call a speculum to hold open your vagina. He or she will then use a long-handled tool to collect a small sample of cells from your cervix — the passage between your vagina and your uterus. The cells are examined with a microscope for abnormalities.
Only a few varieties of genital HPV have been linked to cervical cancer. A sample of cervical cells, taken during a Pap test, can be tested for these cancer-causing HPV strains. This test is generally reserved for women ages 30 and older. It isn't as useful for younger women because their immune systems usually can kill even cancer-causing varieties of genital HPV without treatment.
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