Genital Warts Treatment & Management

Updated: Nov 17, 2016
  • Author: Delaram Ghadishah, MD; Chief Editor: William D James, MD  more...
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Approach Considerations

Symptomatic treatment may be warranted in emergency situations. Use pressure to stop bleeding, if present. Relieve urethral obstruction (rare). Search for evidence of coexistent STDs; treat them if found and indicated. Further treatment, screening, and vaccination guidelines from the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists and Centers for Disease Control and Prevention are available. [2, 3, 4]  Also see Human Papillomavirus.


If visible genital warts are left untreated, they can undergo spontaneous resolution, increase in size, increase in number, or remain unchanged. Complete resolution of lesions after 2 years occurs in 75% of individuals without intervention.

Ablative therapy

Cryotherapy [3] can be used. Use an open spray or cotton-tipped applicator for 10-15 seconds and repeat as needed. Lift away mobile skin from the underlying normal tissue before freezing. Response rates are high, clearance occurs about 75% of the time with few adverse sequelae. Adverse reactions include pain during treatment, erosion, ulceration, and postinflammatory hypopigmentation of skin. Cryotherapy is safe for use during pregnancy.

Electrodesiccation (smoke plume may be infective) and curettage have been used.

Surgical excision [3] has the highest success rate and lowest recurrence rate. Initial cure rates are 63-91%.

Carbon dioxide laser treatment is used for extensive or recurrent genital warts. The procedure requires local, regional, or general anesthesia. (A eutectic mixture of local anesthetics [EMLA] cream may be used as an alternative anesthetic.) Clearance rates are more than 90%, but reoccurrence can be up to 40%. HPV-6 DNA has been detected in the carbon dioxide laser plume; therefore, the laser operator is at risk of developing mucosal warts.

With infrared coagulation, a beam of infrared light is delivered to the affected lesions, causing tissue coagulation and necrosis. Treatment is successful in about 80% of cases.

Immune-based therapy

Physician administered treatments include acid applications (bichloroacetic acid or trichloroacetic acid) and interferon injections with antiviral mechanisms.

Medications for home use include imiquimod 5% cream, podofilox gel or solution, and antiproliferative compounds (5-fluorouracil).

Vaccination  [5, 6]

Two HPV vaccines have proven to be highly effective in clinical trials: Gardasil and Cervarix. Gardasil, Merck's HPV vaccine, was licensed by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) in June 2006 for the prevention of cervical cancers and other diseases caused by HPV in females. [7] It is composed of a viruslike particle consisting of recombinant L1 proteins from HPV types 6, 11, 16, and 18. It has been recommended by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices to be routinely given to girls and boys at age 11-12 years. [8] It can be administered starting at age 9 years, with catch-up vaccinations recommended for females aged 13-26 years and boys through age 21 years.

Children and adolescents aged 15 years and younger now need two, not three, doses of the HPV vaccine; this ACIP recommendation stems from the vaccine’s enhanced immunogenicity in preteens and adolescents aged 9-14 years. [9] Efficacy in trials has shown that the response in the younger children after two doses is as good as or better than the response after three doses in older teens and young adults. In addition to dropping the third dose for those younger than 15 years, the recommendation expands the time interval from the first dose to the second dose from 1-2 months to 6-12 months. The schedule for older adolescents and young adults aged 15-26 years remains the same—at three inoculations within 6 months.

Cervarix is GlaxoSmithKline's HPV vaccine candidate and focuses on cancer prevention with L1 proteins from HPV types 16 and 18 only. [10] The vaccines do not eliminate the need for other prevention strategies and screening.

Special concerns


Latent infections may become activated with numerous large lesions. Lesions often present or increase during pregnancy. Lesions may make vaginal delivery difficult if they are in the cervix, vagina, or vulva. Lesions tend to bleed easily. Lesions often regress spontaneously after delivery.


Neonates may become infected during passage through an infected birth canal. The incidence of perinatal transmission to the infant pharynx may be as high as 50%; transmission occurs most frequently with HPV-6 and HPV-11. Incidence of genital infection in neonates is 4%, although the American College of Obstetrics and Gynecology currently does not recommend cesarean delivery due solely to positive HPV status.



No emergent consultation is indicated. Outpatient follow-up with a dermatologist, an OB/GYN, or a urologist is indicated.



No treatment is 100% effective. Two HPV vaccines are FDA approved. [8, 10] Sexual abstinence and monogamy are protective. Condoms may discourage transmission.


Long-Term Monitoring

Ensure follow-up with a dermatologist, OB/GYN (females), or urologist (males) within 1 week. Perform a workup for human papillomavirus (HPV) and other sexually transmitted diseases (STDs) as indicated. Treat the patient using medications; if medications are ineffective, treat with cryotherapy, curettage, electrodesiccation, surgical excision, carbon dioxide laser treatment, or combination therapy.

Evaluate and treat sexual partner(s).

Search for immunosuppression in patients with treatment failures and recurrences. Perform a tissue biopsy if recurrences or treatment failures occur.