The doctor confirmed it: You have genital warts, thanks to a strain of the common STD called Human Papillomavirus (HPV).
First, the good news: 90 percent of genital warts are caused by two strains of HPV, strains 6 and 11—which, outside of rare and unusual cases, are never linked to the cancers that other HPVs (such as strains 16 and 18) can cause.
Genital warts are dead layers of skin being pushed up, says Anne Rompalo, M.D., a professor at Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine who studies sexually transmitted diseases. They can be flat or look bumpy (think: cauliflower) and can be itchy or uncomfortable. And while there’s no known cure for HPV, there aretreatments for genital warts.
1. Topical Treatments
If you’re the type of person who always remembers to take your medication, prescription take-home creams and gels that target genital warts are likely a good fit for you. Your doctor will probably prescribe one of three products: Podofilox, a solution you apply twice a day for three days that destroys warts; Imiquimod, a topical medication that calls small, immune-enhancing proteins to the warts, working to fight them with your body’s own immune system; and Sinecatechins, a green-tea extract ointment packed with antioxidants called catechins. You apply it three times a day (and you shouldn’t have sex while it’s on your skin). Find out what an infectious disease specialist has to say about having sex while treating an STD.
If you think you’ll forget to apply the medicine, a doctor also can apply a medication called podophyllin resin to your warts (up to once a week) for about six weeks (or until your warts disappear). You wash the medication off one to four hours after your visit.
Cryotherapy destroys bumps through liquid nitrogen , which causes the cells to burst. Just make sure your doc has a track record for performing the procedures, as both under- and over-treating warts with cryotherapy is ineffective (and liquid nitrogen treatments can be painful and sometimes lead to blistering…so, yeah, you want to be in good hands). If you’re dealing with larger warts, your doctor can also apply local anesthesia to the area.
3. Acid Solutions
Both Trichloroacetic acid (TCA) or Bichloroacetic acid (BCA) are corrosive acids that destroy warts by targeting the tissue at hand. Your doctor performs the treatments, which can be performed weekly, but the CDC notes: “Although these preparations are widely used, they have not been investigated thoroughly.” Rompalo adds that she personally doesn’t favor TCA as is it can burn healthy skin as it kills the wart.
If you have multiple warts, have a large area affected, or haven’t responded well to other kinds of treatment, surgery is an option—and it can usually eliminate lesions with a single trip to the doctor. Depending on your particular case, warts can be removed with laser, fine scissors, or a scalpel, or by burning them off by using electrocautery (which uses a low-voltages electrical probe).
5. Nothing At All
Another option for treatment: Don’t do anything at all. “Left alone, a third of genital warts will resolve on their own [after two years],” says Rompalo, who notes that another third resolve with therapy, and a third will simply be resistant to therapy.