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Can You Be Cured of Genital Warts?

Reviewed on 9/11/2018

Ask a Doctor

I think I might have an STD – I’ve noticed what I think are a couple genital warts. Can you get rid of HPV once you have it? Is high risk HPV (human papilloma virus) curable?

Doctor's Response

There is no single effective cure for removal of genital warts. A number of treatment options exist; however, no treatment is 100% effective in eliminating warts and preventing them from coming back in all patients. It also is not possible to eliminate infection with human papillomavirus once it has occurred. Genital warts may go away on their own in about 10% to 20% of people over a period of three to four months.

  • Cryotherapy: This technique freezes the wart using liquid nitrogen or a "cryoprobe." It is an excellent first-line treatment because response rates are high with few side effects.
  • Laser treatment: This treatment is used for extensive or recurrent genital warts. It may require local, regional, or general anesthesia. The laser physically destroys the HPV-induced lesion. Disadvantages include high cost, increased healing time, scarring, and potentially infectious viral particles in the air caused by the laser plume.
  • Electrodesiccation: This technique uses an electric current to destroy the warts. It can be done in the office with local anesthesia. Of note, the resulting smoke plume may be infectious.

Several medications exist for treating genital warts and can be used as an alternative to other treatments.

  • Podophyllum resin (Pod-Ben-25, Podofin) is topically applied by a health-care professional.
  • Podofilox (Condylox) can be topically applied at home and has a higher cure rate than podophyllum resin. Podofilox also is useful for prevention.
  • Trichloroacetic acid or bichloracetic acid is topically applied; however, the response is often incomplete and recurrence is higher and it may cause pain and burning.
  • 5-Fluorouracil (Efudex) is applied as a cream, has a long treatment time, can cause burning and irritation, and has many side effects.
  • Interferon alpha-n3 (Alferon N) is an injection used for warts that do not respond to other therapies; however, it has many side effects.
  • Imiquimod (Aldara) is applied as a cream and local skin irritation is a common side effect.

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Reviewed on 9/11/2018
References
REFERENCES:

CDC. 2015 Sexually Transmitted Diseases Treatment Guidelines. Updated: Jan 25, 2017.
<https://www.cdc.gov/std/tg2015/default.htm>

Gearhart, PA. Human Papillomavirus. Medscape. Updated: Jan 05, 2017.
<http://emedicine.medscape.com/article/219110-overview>
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