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9 Treatment Options for Genital Warts

By Dr. Kristie

Have you been diagnosed with genital warts? You're certainly not alone! Genital warts are now the most common sexually transmitted disease in the United States. If you have genital warts, what are your treatment options?

The good news is genital warts may go away without any treatment at all. Unfortunately, it's difficult to predict whether you'll be one of the lucky ones whose warts completely disappear or if you’ll develop a full blown case of genital warts. If you fall into the latter group, you have several treatment options available for genital wart removal. You and your doctor should determine based on your history and your particular lifestyle which option to approach. Treatments can include:

1. Cryotherapy

With this procedure, the doctor uses liquid nitrogen to freeze the wart causing it to eventually fall off. The procedure is quick and can be quite effective, although up to three treatments may be required to get complete regression of the genital wart. There is a small risk of side effects such as ulceration of the treated area and changes in the skin pigmentation. The treatment is also perceived by some to be painful, although it's well tolerated in most cases. Cryotherapy is usually the first line therapy of choice due to its effectiveness, lower cost, and quick results.

2. Electrocautery

This method of treatment for genital warts uses a small probe to deliver a low voltage of electricity to the affected area. This allows the wart to be removed with minimal blood loss and with a success rate of around 90%. You may be given a local numbing agent to make the procedure more comfortable.

3. Carbon dioxide laser

This treatment mode for genital warts uses tightly focused infrared light to attack the wart. This method has its advantages and disadvantages. The advantages are that it can be used to treat larger, thicker warts without affecting the surrounding, normal tissue. Plus, the procedure is usually bloodless. The disadvantage is that this method can be quite costly. For this reason, it's usually not used as first line therapy for genital wart removal.

4. Surgical excision

If your genital warts are very large, your doctor may suggest excising them surgically. This involves making an incision which may result in postoperative pain and increased healing time.

There are some nonsurgical treatments for genital wart removal. These include:

1. Application of podophyllin to the genital wart.

This is a resin which is applied directly to the wart by your doctor. It works by disrupting the ability of the virus to reproduce in the skin tissue. Unfortunately, this method is not as effective as some of the previously discussed methods and the return rate of the genital wart is higher. In rare cases, podophyllin may be absorbed into the body causing serious side effects including liver and blood problems. This treatment also tends to be expensive.

2. Application of popodophyllotoxin.

This is a cream or gel you apply yourself twice daily for 3 days in a row, followed by 4 days with no application. This cycle can be repeated for up to a month. Some people clear after four cycles, while others will require further treatment for genital wart removal.

3. Application of Imiquimod

This is another topical cream you apply yourself. It's applied to the genital warts once a day. It’s kept on the lesion overnight and washed off in the morning. This cycle is repeated 3 times per week for 4 months. Side effects are few, but the genital warts return after treatment in 20% of cases.

4. Application of trichloracetic acid

This is a solution that's applied by your doctor. When it's applied to the wart, the tissue develops a white, frosty appearance and a burning sensation develops.. This method is up to 80% effective but may be associated with ulceration and pain in the treated area.

5. Use of topical interferon.

This treatment is generally only used if the previous treatments fail to clear the genital warts as it tends to be inconsistent and quite expensive.

How is a genital wart treatment measure chosen? This should be discussed with your doctor who will select treatment based on the number, location and size of your genital warts. The cost of treatment will also be taken into consideration if this is a factor for you. It's important to remember that just because the genital wart is removed doesn't mean you have eradicated the virus from your system. Unfortunately, there's a good chance at some point in your life, you'll experience a recurrence of your symptoms.

Now that you have a better understanding of genital wart treatment options and modalities for genital wart removal, you can make a more informed decision along with the help of your doctor.

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