Papillomas are noncancerous, outward-growing lumps that might cause problems in some locations. They do not spread and are not aggressive.

However, be sure to receive a clinical opinion on any lump or skin lesion. If a lump turns out to be a more severe type of lump, it is important to intervene early.

Another reason for getting medical attention is that papillomas can cause complications or discomfort, and sometimes require additional treatment even though these problems are likely to be neither cancerous nor life-threatening.

While papillomas are not, by themselves, cancerous, they are linked with a higher risk of cancer. Women who have received treatment for multiple breast papilloma, for example, might be monitored just in case cancer also occurs.

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Papillomas do not usually cause any long-term health problems.

Papillomas are benign growths. This means that they do not grow aggressively and they do not spread around the body.

The growths only form in certain types of tissue, although these tissues occur all over the body. Papillomas are often known as warts and verrucae when they reach the skin. They can also form in the surface of the moist tissues lining the insides of the body, such as in the gut or airway.

The surfaces in which papillomas occur in are called epithelia. The epithelium of the skin, for example, is the top layer of flat cells.

A papilloma forms a nipple-shaped outgrowth. Warts and verrucae in the skin have a familiar appearance, although they occur in various shapes and sizes.

Should I be worried about a papilloma?

Lumps and lesions will naturally cause concern. If they do, doctor can confirm this as a benign growth.

A diagnosis of benign papilloma means that the lump presents no cause for concern.

However, a person might still want to address or treat a papilloma, as they can cause pain, irritation, and concerns about appearance.

Human papillomavirus (HPV) causes most papillomas.

For some papillomas though, HPV is not the main cause. One example is an inverted papilloma of the urinary tract, which research has linked to smoking and other potential causes.

For papillomas of the skin, where HPV is known to be the cause, skin damage can promote the development of a papilloma. Scratching at or picking a wart can also lead to further infection. However, the growth itself cannot spread to another location.

While there are links between HPV and cancer, especially cervical cancer, researchers believe that it takes between 10 and 30 years for HPV to develop into a malignant condition. Less than 50 percent of precancerous cervical lesions from HPV make the transition.

Many papillomas do not produce any symptoms beyond irritation.

They can cause worry and impact self-esteem in some people, due to their appearance. Only a few papillomas produce medical symptoms.

Papillomas of the female breast duct can cause watery or bloody discharge to leave the nipple. A single leaking papilloma in the breast is likely no closer to becoming cancerous, and treatment can remove these papillomas.

A papilloma that forms inside the nose or sinuses can cause more problems as a result of its location.

The lump is not malignant but might push against nearby structures, including the eye. Again, removal of the lump is possible and can help relieve any symptoms.

When a papilloma or group of papillomas grow in the larynx, it can obstruct the process of breathing. This causes a rare condition known as recurrent respiratory papillomatosis, which occurs mostly in children.

Symptoms include hoarseness, a quiet or weak cry, and airway obstruction, in severe instances.

This can also return after treatment or transform into a malignant tumor. Because of this, it might become necessary to treat recurrent respiratory papillomatosis multiple times.

Treatment

Whether a papilloma lump or lesion needs treatment depends on its location and whether it is causing problems there.

A papilloma is often harmless and does not require treatment.

A doctor will likely not even discover internal papillomas unless they encounter the wart while investigating another issue.

When a papilloma does need treatment, it is by destruction or removal.

Skin papilloma treatment

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Doctors can freeze, burn, or cut away papillomas.

Doctors can treat warts on the skin using the following methods:

  • cautery, which involves burning off the tissue and then scraping it away using curettage
  • excision, in which a doctor surgically removes the papilloma
  • laser surgery, a procedure that destroys the wart using high-energy light from a laser
  • cryotherapy, or freezing off the tissue
  • applying liquid nitrogen onto warts or injecting them into the papilloma

Drugs applied to papilloma tissue on the skin are also used to destroy warts. Examples include:

  • 5-fluorouracil
  • cantharidin
  • imiquimod

Doctors might prescribe others, depending on the type of wart.

Breast papilloma treatment

A doctor can easily remove a papilloma of the breast and send it for a biopsy. These tests can confirm that it is a benign growth.

They might not completely remove the breast papillomas. Instead, a sample of the growth might be taken for testing. A doctor will test this using a biopsy, taking away part of the tissue after the area has been numbed with anesthetic.

Genital wart treatment

The treatment options for genital warts are similar to those for skin warts. Either surgical or chemical removal can help.

Dermatologists recommend that they should treat papillomas on the genitals. However, this is not compulsory.

Do not attempt non-prescription or over-the-counter (OTC) treatment at home without medical advice.

Q:

What can I do to stop a papilloma becoming cancerous?

A:

It is difficult to stop a papilloma becoming cancer because HPV cancer does not usually have symptoms until it is in an advanced stage. Most HPV cancers do not have a way to screen but there is an HPV vaccination to prevent infection.

For women, having a regular screening for cervical cancer is important so that early treatment can occur before HPV turns into cancer

There is no way to know which people who have HPV will develop cancer or other health problems. People with weak immune systems, including those with HIV, might be less able to fight off HPV and more likely to develop health problems from it.

Practicing a healthy lifestyle is the best way to fight any kind of infection.

HPV cancers include cancer of the cervix, vulva, vagina, penis, or anus. HPV infection can also cause cancer in the back of the throat, including the base of the tongue and tonsils. This is known as oropharyngeal cancer.

Debra Sullivan, PhD, MSN, RN, CNE, COI Answers represent the opinions of our medical experts. All content is strictly informational and should not be considered medical advice.