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Electrocautery for Genital Warts

British Columbia Specific Information

Human Papillomavirus (HPV) is one of the most common sexually transmitted infections (STIs). HPV can cause genital warts and cancers of the anus, cervix, mouth and throat, penis, vagina, and vulva. The HPV vaccines protect against infection from certain types of HPV, however, they do not get rid of the infection once it has occurred.

Health Canada has approved 2 HPV vaccines:

  • Cervarix® (HPV2)
  • Gardasil®9 (HPV9)

To determine if you are eligible to receive the free vaccine, see HealthLinkBC File #101b Human Papillomavirus (HPV) Vaccines, visit ImmunizeBC – HPV (Human Papillomavirus), or speak with a public health nurse at your local public health unit. Those not eligible for the free HPV vaccine can purchase it at most pharmacies and travel clinics and at some sexual health clinics.

To learn more about HPV infection, see HealthLinkBC File #101a Human Papillomavirus (HPV) Infection and Genital Warts. For more information on STIs, sexual health information, where to get tested and other sexual health services in your area, visit SmartSexResource.

Surgery Overview

Electrocautery removes genital warts on the penis, vulva, or around the anus by burning them with a low-voltage electrified probe.

Electrocautery is usually done in a doctor's office or a clinic. The injection of a numbing medicine (local anesthetic) is usually used for pain control. Medicine that causes unconsciousness (general anesthetic) may be used depending on the number of warts to be removed or destroyed.

What To Expect After Surgery

The recovery time depends on the location and number of warts removed.

  • After surgery you may have some pain, swelling, and redness.
  • Healing usually occurs within 2 to 4 weeks.
  • Healing time may be prolonged if a large area of tissue is burned.
  • Scarring may occur.

Why It Is Done

Electrocautery removes warts with little blood loss. It usually is used for small areas of warts.

How Well It Works

In one study, electrocautery was effective for about 8 out of 10 people in removing warts and stopping them from coming back 6 months after treatment. Warts are less likely to return after electrocautery than after medicine treatment.footnote 1

The removal of genital warts does not cure a human papillomavirus (HPV) infection. The virus may remain in the body in an inactive state after warts are removed.

Risks

Risks of electrocautery are:

  • Bleeding. Blood loss is usually minimal, because the electrocautery seals blood vessels as it removes warts.
  • Infection. Antibiotics may be given at the time of the procedure to reduce the risk of infection.
  • Pain. Medicine may be needed for several days after the electrocautery procedure.

What To Think About

Electrocautery for external genital warts can be safely used during pregnancy.

Treating genital warts does not cure infection with human papillomavirus (HPV), the virus that causes genital warts. 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. Latex condoms may help reduce the risk of HPV infection, but they do not protect the entire genital area against skin-to-skin contact.

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

References

Citations

  1. Buck HW (2010). Warts (genital), search date December 2009. Online version of BMJ Clinical Evidence: http://www.clinicalevidence.com.

Credits

Current as of:
February 26, 2020

Author: Healthwise Staff
Medical Review:
Sarah Marshall MD - Family Medicine
Thomas M. Bailey MD - Family Medicine
Adam Husney MD - Family Medicine
Kathleen Romito MD - Family Medicine
Kirtly Jones MD - Obstetrics and Gynecology
Kevin C. Kiley MD - Obstetrics and Gynecology