There is no cure for human papillomavirus (HPV). However, there is treatment for the changes the virus can cause to the cervix, as well as treatment for the warts that can occur with an infection (both genital and nongenital). Certain factors may affect the treatment for HPV that your healthcare provider recommends, including whether symptoms are present and what you want and expect.
Human papillomavirus (HPV) is an extremely common type of virus that infect humans. The exact symptoms (if any) a person experiences will be based on the type of HPV (there are over 100) and where the infection occurs. Most people with HPV have no symptoms. If an infection does cause signs or symptoms, it can include such things as genital warts or warts on the feet, hands, or face. An HPV infection can also cause precancerous changes or even cancer (including cervical cancer).
There is no HPV cure, which means that the body's own immune system must get rid of the virus (which it does in a lot of cases). It also means that similar to other viruses (such as those that cause the common cold), the HPV treatment that your healthcare provider recommends will be based on the signs or symptoms you are experiencing. He or she will also consider other factors before recommending treatment for HPV.
When genital warts are diagnosed, the healthcare provider will consider the size, location, number of genital warts, and what you want and expect before recommending treatment. Some people may want the warts removed if they cause itching, burning, and discomfort. Others may want to clear up visible warts for cosmetic reasons. A healthcare provider may also recommend "watchful waiting" because genital warts can often disappear on their own without treatment.
If left untreated, genital warts may proceed in a few different ways. They may:
- Go away on their own
- Remain unchanged
- Increase in size or number.
If you decide to have genital warts removed, do not use over-the-counter medicines meant for other kinds of warts. There are special treatments for genital warts, and none are available over the counter.
Your healthcare provider may treat genital warts by applying a chemical in the office or freezing them off with a liquid nitrogen solution (known as cryosurgery). These require several treatments over at least two or three weeks. Freezing usually works fastest, but it can be somewhat painful.
Your healthcare provider may also prescribe a cream for you to apply at home. Examples of creams used for genital warts include:
Both of these require several weeks of repeated treatment and both can cause irritation and soreness in the treatment area. Pregnant women should avoid treatment with podofilox (see HPV and Pregnancy).
Surgery is also an option to treat genital warts, especially for larger warts, a large number of warts, or those that do not respond to other treatments. Surgical HPV treatment options include:
- Electrocautery, which uses an electric current to burn off the warts
- Laser treatment, which uses light to destroy warts
- Cutting them out surgically.
Even after genital warts are treated, the virus may remain and the warts can return. This means that the genital warts that return within the first several months after treatment are usually from recurrence and not reinfection. It is also not clear if treating the genital warts lowers a person's chance of giving the virus to a sexual partner or not.
Genital warts will not turn into cancer. It is not fully known why low-risk HPV causes genital warts in some cases and not in others.