Laser surgery for genital warts

Surgery Overview

A laser can be used to destroy genital warts.

Laser surgery may be done in a doctor's office or clinic, a hospital, or an outpatient surgery center. Local or general anesthetic may be used depending on the number of warts to be removed or the size of the area to be treated.

For women, abnormal cervical cell changes caused by HPV will be treated differently than genital warts caused by HPV. Your doctor may recommend certain types of surgery, such as laser surgery. For more information about surgical methods to treat abnormal cell changes, see the topic Abnormal Pap Test.

What To Expect After Surgery

Recovery time depends on the location and number of warts removed. Healing usually occurs within 2 to 4 weeks.

For men and women who have had laser surgery, call your doctor if you have any of the following:

  • Bleeding that lasts longer than 1 week
  • A fever
  • Severe pain
  • Bad-smelling or yellowish discharge, which may indicate an infection

Avoid sexual intercourse until the treated area heals and the soreness is gone (usually 1 to 3 weeks, depending on the size of the area treated).

Why It Is Done

Laser surgery may be done when:

  • Medicine has failed, and it is necessary to remove the warts.
  • Warts are widespread.
  • Warts need to be treated during pregnancy. Your doctor will recommend when treatment should be done during pregnancy.

How Well It Works

In studies, laser surgery removed warts in up to 50% of people. But warts may return after surgery.1

Laser surgery is a safe treatment for pregnant women.

Risks

Laser surgery may cause any of the following:

  • Pain, swelling, or itching
  • Discharge from the vagina or penis
  • Sores in the area treated
  • Tissue that sticks together
  • Shedding of dead tissue
  • Urination that occurs in a wide, spraying stream, for treatment done in the urethra. Scarring of the penis is a possible side effect that can result in problems with urination or erection.
  • Scarring

What To Think About

Doctors usually use laser surgery for genital warts after other treatments have failed. Laser surgery for the treatment of genital warts is more expensive than many other treatment methods.

There are concerns that laser treatment may increase the risk of having warts return by destroying the local immune system, allowing inactive viruses to become active.

Laser surgery requires specialized training and equipment. Some experts believe that the skill of the doctor performing the laser surgery affects surgical success. People considering laser surgery for genital warts should ask the doctor how many times he or she has done this procedure and about his or her success rate.

Warts that are difficult to treat may be managed by adding other treatments, such as fluorouracil. Genital warts may be treated with fluorouracil before or after laser surgery.

  • If used before surgery, fluorouracil reduces the size and number of warts requiring laser treatment.
  • If used after surgery, fluorouracil may prevent genital warts from returning.

An advantage of laser surgery is that adjacent and deep tissue is not damaged during laser treatment.

Treating genital warts may not cure a human papillomavirus (HPV) infection. The virus may remain in the body in an inactive state after warts are removed. A person treated for genital warts may still be able to spread the infection. Condoms may help reduce the risk of HPV infection.

The benefits and effectiveness of each type of treatment need to be compared with the side effects and cost. Discuss this with your doctor.

Complete the surgery information form (PDF)(What is a PDF document?) to help you prepare for this surgery.

References

Citations

  1. Wiley DJ, et al. (2002). External genital warts: Diagnosis, treatment, and prevention. Clinical Infectious Diseases, 35(Suppl 2): S210–S224.

Last Updated: July 2, 2008

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