Cryotherapy (cryosurgery) destroys genital warts by freezing them with liquid nitrogen.
- A doctor applies liquid nitrogen to and around the warts.
- First, the tissue is frozen with liquid nitrogen. Then, the tissue is allowed to thaw. The tissue is frozen again, if needed. The time of application varies by the doctor who applies the liquid nitrogen and the size of the warts.
- The size and thickness of the warts determine the number and length of freeze/thaw cycles. Up to three treatments may be needed.
- You may have a mild to moderate burning sensation during the treatment.
- Genital warts in the urethra or anus usually require the most treatments because the warts may be inside the opening.
Cryotherapy is usually done in your doctor's office or clinic. A magnifying instrument may be used to see the abnormal tissue better.
What To Expect After Treatment
Recovery time depends on the location and number of warts removed. Healing usually occurs in 1 to 3 weeks. After treatment, the following may occur:
- Irritation, soreness, or mild pain may occur.
- You may have swelling.
- You may have dead tissue shed off.
- Sores or blisters may form.
Men and women
For men and women who have had cryotherapy for external genital warts, call your doctor for any of the following:
- A fever
- Continued bleeding
- Bad-smelling or yellowish discharge, which may indicate an infection
- Continued pain
Avoid sexual intercourse until the treated area heals and the soreness is gone.
Be aware of the following after treatment for vaginal or cervical warts:
- A watery vaginal discharge may occur for about 1 to 3 weeks.
- Sanitary napkins should be used instead of tampons for 2 to 3 weeks.
- Avoid sexual intercourse or douching until the treated area heals, usually in 1 to 3 weeks.
Men treated for genital warts on the penis, scrotum, or in the urethra should avoid sexual intercourse until the treated area is healed and the soreness is gone. This is usually 1 to 3 weeks, depending on the size of the area treated.
Why It Is Done
Cryotherapy may be done when genital warts are visible, growing in a small area (especially near the anus), and bothersome.
Cryotherapy usually is not used when genital warts are widespread.
How Well It Works
Experts agree that cryotherapy can be helpful in removing genital warts.footnote 1 In some studies, cryotherapy removed warts in up to 90 out of 100 cases.footnote 2 But warts may grow back. More than one treatment may be needed.
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.
There are few complications after cryotherapy. Scarring is a slight risk.
The number and severity of side effects depend on the number of freeze/thaw cycles used during cryotherapy and how large an area was treated.
What To Think About
Cryotherapy for external genital warts can be used safely 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 doctor.
- Buck HW (2010). Warts (genital), search date December 2009. Online version of BMJ Clinical Evidence: http://www.clinicalevidence.com.
- American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists (2005, reaffirmed 2009). Human papillomavirus. ACOG Practice Bulletin No. 61. Obstetrics and Gynecology, 105(4): 905–918.
Current as of: February 26, 2020
Author: Healthwise Staff
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
Current as of: February 26, 2020