Electrocautery for Genital Warts
British Columbia Specific Information
Genital warts are a sexually transmitted infection (STI) caused by infection from the human papillomavirus (HPV). Genital warts can be treated using topical medication or freezing. These treatments do not get rid of the HPV infection; a person who has been treated may still pass it on, even if the warts are no longer visible. For information about genital warts and HPV, see HealthLinkBC File #101a Human Papillomavirus (HPV) Infection and Genital Warts. Please speak with your health care provider to discuss the best treatment option for you.
You may also be interested in exploring HPV vaccination. Health Canada approves the HPV vaccines Cervarix® (HPV2) and Gardasil® (HPV4) for use in women up to the age of 45, and Gardasil® for men ages 9 and older. Both vaccines protect against infection by HPV types that cause most cases of cervical cancer and several less common cancers. Gardasil® also protects against infection by the HPV types that cause most cases of genital warts. The vaccines prevent HPV infection but do not get rid of the infection once it has occurred. For more information on the HPV vaccines, see HealthLinkBC File #101b Human Papillomavirus (HPV) Vaccines.
For more information on STIs, sexual health information, where to get tested and other sexual health services in your area, visit SmartSexResource.
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 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. 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.
Current as of: May 22, 2015
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