Top Treatments for HPV and Genital Warts
- A Closer Look at Common TreatmentsIt's the most common sexually transmitted infection (STI) and it often causes no symptoms—but it can lead to cancer. It's human papillomavirus (HPV), and about 79 million people in the United States have it. Most people don't know they've picked up HPV unless they develop genital warts. Women may also find out about HPV infection through an abnormal Pap smear result. If you have HPV, it’s important to learn about your treatment options.
- HPV DiagnosisAccording to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), 90% of HPV infections resolve on their own. In these cases, the virus doesn't cause symptoms or health problems and simply goes away. You would never know you had it in the first place—and neither would your sexual partner. When HPV infection persists, doctors can diagnose it through visual inspection of genital warts or with a Pap smear.
- Topical Treatments for Genital WartsSince warts are visible on the genitals, they're often a person's first treatment concern. Doctors can treat mild cases of genital warts with prescription topical products, such as imiquimod (Aldara), podofilox (Condylox), and sinecatechins (Veregen). You apply these products yourself. But it’s vital that you follow all instructions and complete the entire course of therapy. Doctors can also offer office-based topical treatments with chemicals or drug resins.
- ColposcopyIf you have an abnormal Pap smear, your doctor needs more information to decide what treatment course makes sense. Your doctor may order another Pap test in 6 to 12 months or recommend colposcopy. It depends on your age, how abnormal the cervical cells look, and whether you’re pregnant. Colposcopy is a procedure that uses a magnifying device to get a closer look at the abnormal cervix. Your doctor may also take a tissue sample or biopsy at the same time. A pathologist will carefully examine the tissue sample in the laboratory.
- Surgery for Abnormal Cervical CellsNot every type of abnormal cervical cell needs further treatment. But if the cells look precancerous, it may be necessary to take tissue from the part of the cervix where most cancers grow. Your doctor can use either a LEEP procedure that uses an electrified wire to remove tissue, or a cold knife cone biopsy. Laser vaporization and cryosurgery are other options for destroying the abnormal tissue.
- Surgery for Genital WartsDoctors typically don’t use surgery to remove genital warts. But surgery is useful when the warts are extensive, located inside the urethra or vagina, or have not responded to other treatments. When it’s necessary, your doctor may use a laser, special scissors, curettage, or a scalpel to surgically remove genital warts. The same type of electrified wire procedure, LEEP, that destroys abnormal cervical cells is also an option for genital warts.
- FreezingCyrotherapy with liquid nitrogen can "freeze" both abnormal cervical cells and genital warts. Your doctor can apply it directly to genital warts. But to destroy abnormal cervical cells, your doctor will insert a hollow instrument into the vagina to make contact with the cells. The liquid nitrogen flows through the tube to the cells. Often, cells are frozen, allowed to thaw, and then frozen again.
- PreventionYou can protect yourself from dangerous HPV strains by getting the HPV vaccine and using condoms consistently. Vaccination involves three injections over six months. There are many strains of HPV, some of which cause genital warts and others lead to cancer. The vaccine, Gardasil 9, protects against nine types of HPV, including those that cause cancer and cancer-causing genital warts . Boys and girls aged 11 and 12 years, and up until the age of 45, can receive the vaccine. Gardasil 9 replaced Gardasil and Cervarix in the United States.
- Protect YourselfHPV infection is the most common sexually transmitted infection. If you’re sexually active, the chances are that you will have it at some point during your lifetime. The catch is that you may not know it. Protect yourself by getting the vaccine if you qualify and using condoms every time. If you’re a woman, be faithful in getting a Pap smear. And if you do find genital warts or have an abnormal Pap smear, talk to your doctor about all your treatment options.
Top Treatments for HPV and Genital Warts