Genital warts treatments

Updated on:
September 20, 2021

HPV vaccines can prevent, but not treat, genital warts. These vaccines are effective against the strains of the virus which cause most cases (90%) of genital warts. Otherwise, no treatments can rid HPV from the body. 

While HPV itself cannot be treated, there are treatments available for genital warts that aim to remove the warts and relieve symptoms. Genital warts can be removed, but even after the removal, the infection will remain and can still be transmitted sexually. 

Several rounds of treatments may be required to fully remove genital warts. Even after removal, genital warts can re-occur. Immunosuppression, older age, and infection with more aggressive strains of HPV are all associated with the persistence of genital warts after treatment. 

Treating genital warts 

After testing for genital warts, Healthcare providers can remove genital warts by using chemicals, laser surgery, freezing with liquid nitrogen, or prescribing topical medications.

Topical medications:

Your healthcare provider may prescribe topical creams, gels, solutions, or ointments for external genital warts around the genitals and anus. These topical medications work by boosting your immune system's response to the HPV infection to help fight it. The medication is applied directly to the skin by you, according to your healthcare provider’s instructions. 

Medications that can be applied topically for genital warts by patients include:

  • Imiquimod cream
  • Podofilox solution or gel
  • Sinecatechins ointment

Side effects of using topical medications can include:

  • Redness or swelling in the application area. 
  • Flaky or scabby skin
  • Itching
  • A burning sensation

Cryotherapy: 

In this common treatment, liquid nitrogen is used to freeze off genital warts. Liquid nitrogen causes a blister to form around the wart, eventually causing it to fall off leaving the blister to heal. 

Cryotherapy is easily performed at healthcare provider/sexual health clinics. It's quick and effective, although multiple treatments may be required to effectively freeze off the genital wart(s). 

Side effects of cryotherapy include:

  • Pain
  • Mild burning
  • Swelling of the area 

Laser surgery:

In this treatment, a laser is used by a healthcare provider to burn away the genital wart(s). Local or general anesthetic is administered beforehand to minimize any discomfort.

Laser surgery is most often used when genital warts are not responding to other forms of treatment, the warts are difficult to access, or there are many genital warts that need to be removed. 

After-effects of laser surgery can include:

  • Soreness
  • Scarring
  • Irritation
  • Pain 

Recovery time following laser surgery is around 4 weeks. 

Electrocautery:

In electrocautery treatment, a healthcare provider uses a low-electrical-current to burn genital warts. Once the warts are burned, the surgeon scrapes away the dried tissue, effectively removing the warts. 

This procedure is quick and usually performed under local anesthetic for a painless experience. A general anesthetic may be used depending on the number and size of the genital warts to be removed.

Side effects of electrocautery can include:

  • Scarring
  • Infection
  • Change in skin colour 
  • Infection 

Important notes:

Genital wart treatments are used to remove genital warts, but even after or during treatment warts may reoccur and require further treatment. 

Warning:

Over-the-counter treatments for wart removal are not designed for treating or removing genital warts and should not be used. 

When should I begin post-exposure treatment for genital warts?

Even if you have genital warts or had genital warts which a healthcare provider removed, it is unlikely that you have been infected with all the types of HPV. The vaccine provides protection against strains of HPV you have not yet had, including those that cause cancer. Getting an HPV vaccine, even after exposure or infection is still beneficial.

If genital warts develop, it's important to begin treating them as soon as possible. 

Where can I get treatment for genital warts?

Genital warts treatments can be provided at your healthcare provider's clinic or sexual health/STI clinics. These locations can also administer the HPV vaccine. 

Can I have sex during and/or after my treatment for genital warts?

While undergoing treatment for the removal of genital warts, it's important to abstain from sex so the area has time to properly heal. Talk to your healthcare provider about when you can resume sexual activity.

How can I be sure the treatment worked for genital warts?

Treatments for the removal of genital warts sometimes need to be repeated in order to fully remove the warts, or remove new warts that have emerged. Your treatment provider will let you know when the warts have been removed and you can stop treatments. 

After genital warts removal, periodically check the area where the genital warts were to ensure they haven't come back and require more treatment. You can also schedule appointments with your healthcare provider to check - especially if you had internal warts or they were on a location on your body that you can't check yourself.


Resources:
https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3390234/
https://www.cdc.gov/std/treatment-guidelines/anogenital-warts.htm

Reviewed by:
Emeline Mugisha

Emeline’s expertise stems from over a decade of community/public health practice among marginalized communities in the U.S. and abroad, with a clinical focus on HIV and infectious diseases.

Using a social justice lens, she is a fierce advocate for empowerment-based practice, trauma-informed care, and cultivating rest as tools for advancing towards whole-life wellness.

She holds a Master of Science in Nursing and a Master of Public Health from Johns Hopkins University.