Genital warts are common skin infections are are usually transmitted sexually.  The are not usually painful or dangerous but are often highly distressing to individuals who struggle with them.  This page answers some common questions about genital warts and their treatment.

What causes genital warts?

Genital warts are most commonly spread by skin-to-skin contact.  They are caused by an infection with  one of the strains of the human papilloma virus (HPV virus).  There are over 100 strains of the HPV virus; HPV 6 and 11 are responsible for most causes of genital warts.

Who Gets Genital Warts?

Genital warts are extremely common.  In some studies up to 60-70% of young, sexually-active individuals will experience a genital HPV infection.

Can Genital Warts be Prevented?

Yes. Most cases of genital warts can be prevented if one has received the HPV vaccine known as Gardasil®.  This vaccine is highly effective at protecting against HPV infections, including those caused by HPV 6 and 11.  Gardasil® 9 which was recently approved by Health Canada will protect against 9 strains of the HPV virus, including HPV 6 and 11.  The HPV vaccine is currently recommended for all males and females between the ages of 9 and 26.   

Note that Gardasil® does not treat existing cases of genital warts - it only prevents them in those who have not been previously infected. If you are interested in learning more about the HPV vaccine, please speak to your family doctor.

How are Genital Warts Treated?

There are several different ways of treating warts.  The choice of treatment will depend on a number of factors, including the location of the warts, the age of the patient, and what treatments have been tried before.  

Liquid Nitrogen (Cryotherapy)

The most common way in which genital warts are treated in a doctor's office is with liquid nitrogen.  Nitrogen is an element that makes up most of the air we breathe.  When it is made very cold (-196 °C) it becomes a liquid.  When this liquid is applied to warts (or other skin growths), it causes a separation in the skin.  The top layer peels off within 1-3 weeks and takes all or part of the wart with it.  It is thought that treatments with liquid nitrogen may also stimulate the immune system to attack the wart.  About 80% of cases of genital warts will respond to several treatments.

Treatments with liquid nitrogen are somewhat uncomfortable for a brief period of time.  They frequently cause blistering or scabbing which is normal.   The blisters can be popped with a sterile needle if desired.

What are Some other Treatments that are used for Genital Warts?

  • Trichloroacetic Acid (TCA)

  • Topical Medications - Imiquimod (Vyloma®), Veregen®, Condyline®(podophyllin)

  • Lasers are occasionally used if other treatments fail

Once my Warts have Gone away, What are the Chances that they will Come Back?

  • 20-50% of individuals experience recurrences of genital warts. Recurrences are more common in men than in women.

  • Most genital HPV infections will resolve spontaneously over a period of 2 years.