Human Papillomavirus and Genital Warts
Diagnosis and Treatment
Your healthcare provider usually diagnoses genital warts by seeing them.
If you are a woman with genital warts, you also should be examined for possible HPV infection of the cervix.
Your healthcare provider can diagnose HPV infection based on results from an abnormal Pap smear, a primary cancer-screening tool for cervical cancer or pre-cancerous changes of the cervix.
In some cases, a healthcare provider will take a small piece of tissue from the cervix and examine it under the microscope.
Another test to diagnose HPV infection detects DNA from the virus, which may show possible infection.
Your provider may be able to identify some otherwise invisible warts in your genital tissue by applying vinegar (acetic acid) to areas of your body that might be infected.
This solution causes infected areas to whiten, which makes them more visible.
There are treatments for genital warts, though the warts often disappear even without treatment.
There is no way to predict whether the warts will grow or disappear.
Therefore, if you suspect you have genital warts, you should be examined and treated, if necessary.
Depending on factors such as the size and location of your genital warts, your health care provider will offer you one of several ways to treat them.
- Imiquimod cream
- 20 percent podophyllin antimitotic solution
- 0.5 percent podofilox solution
- 5 percent 5-fluorouracil cream
- Trichloroacetic acid (TCA)
If you are pregnant, you should not use podophyllin or podofilox because they are absorbed by your skin and may cause birth defects in your baby.
In addition, you should not use 5-fluorouracil cream if you are pregnant.
If you have small warts, your health care provider can remove them by one of three methods.
- Freezing (cryosurgery)
- Burning (electrocautery)
- Laser treatment
If you have large warts that have not responded to other treatment, you may have to have surgery to remove them.
Some health care providers inject the antiviral drug alpha interferon directly into warts that have returned after removal by traditional means.
The drug is expensive, however, and does not reduce the rate that the genital warts return.
Although treatments can get rid of the warts, none get rid of the virus.
Because the virus is still present in your body, warts often come back after treatment. See Genital Warts Treatment