Genital warts caused by the most common types of human papillomavirus (HPV) may go away on their own without treatment. For this and other reasons, experts sometimes have different approaches to treating genital warts.
- Genital warts may disappear without treatment. This is the natural course of many genital warts.
- Destroying large areas of warts is difficult and may cause scarring.
- Treatment for genital warts does not eliminate the HPV infection. You may still be able to spread the infection. Condoms can help reduce the risk of HPV infection.
- Treatment of genital warts can be painful, and warts may return after treatment. Warts that return after being treated usually are not treated again unless you want to be retreated. If you do, you would usually choose a different form of treatment.
- Some doctors believe that treatment for genital warts will help prevent the spread of HPV infections and keep genital warts from returning.
Types of treatment
Treatments for genital warts include medicines, freezing, laser, or surgery.
The type of medical treatment for genital warts will depend on:
- The number, size, and location of warts.
- The side effects of treatment.
- The skill of the doctor for each treatment option.
- The cost of treatment, which varies depending on:
- The cost of medicine.
- Any specialized equipment used.
- The number of treatments needed.
- The problems caused by the warts (such as blockage of the urethra).
- Your preference.
- If you are pregnant. Some wart medicines should not be used during pregnancy.
Doctors often recommend medicine applied to warts (topical drug treatment) as the first choice of treatment. A doctor will apply the medicines that have a high risk of causing damage to the skin around the warts. You can apply others at home.
Caution: Do not use nonprescription wart removal products to treat genital warts. These products are not intended to be used in the genital area and may cause serious burning.
Surgery and other treatment
Surgery to remove genital warts may be done when:
- Medicine treatment has failed and the removal of warts is considered necessary.
- Warts are widespread.
What to think about
Without treatment, external genital warts may remain unchanged, increase in size or number, or go away. Studies show that no one treatment is completely successful. All treatments have advantages and disadvantages. The benefits and effectiveness of each treatment need to be compared with the side effects and cost.
- Treatment of warts usually requires a series of applications rather than a single treatment.
- Warts in moist areas usually respond better to treatments applied to the area, such as creams or acids.
- Warts on dry skin may respond best to freezing (cryotherapy) or surgical removal.
- Cryotherapy may be done when genital warts are visible and bothersome and are growing in a small area. Repeat treatments may be needed to remove all wart tissue.
- The success of surgery is related to the number of warts. The success rate is higher and additional treatments are less likely to be needed when surgery is done on fewer and smaller warts. But surgery is less likely to be needed for a few small areas of warts. Surgery may require anesthesia.
- Small areas of warts can be quickly treated with removal methods, such as cryotherapy or surgical excision.
- Self-applied medicines may be used for larger areas of warts that need longer or repeated treatments.
A biopsy of warts that do not go away on their own or after treatment is often done to rule out precancerous or cancerous conditions.
Several choices of treatment for pregnant women have been found to be effective and safe, including trichloroacetic acid (TCA), cryotherapy, and surgery.