The human papillomavirus (HPV) is a common sexually transmitted infection (STI) that can cause warts on or around the genitals and increase the risk of certain cancers. There is no cure, so treatment focuses on treating symptoms.

This article discusses HPV, treatments, and when a person should see a doctor.

HPV is an extremely common STI responsible for around 50% of high-grade cervical precancers worldwide. HPV spreads through anal, vaginal, and oral sex and other skin-to-skin contact.

HPV is a collection of over 200 related viruses. Researchers and doctors classify these viruses into two groups:

  • Low risk HPV: This form of HPV often does not cause symptoms and will go away independently. When symptoms occur, the virus typically appears as warts on or near the genitals.
  • High risk HPV: This form of HPV can cause cancer. The National Cancer Institute (NCI) states that HPV16 and HPV18 are the most common causes of HPV-related cancer. Around half of all HPV cases have high risk variants.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) states that HPV can cause the following types of cancer:

The best treatment for HPV is prevention. The CDC recommends all children 11–12 years or older get vaccinated to help lower their risk of infection and cancer. Children can receive the first dose of this vaccination from the age of 9.

Learn more about the HPV vaccine here.

If a person contracts HPV, doctors cannot cure or treat the virus, but they can help treat genital warts.

HPV does not always cause symptoms. However, some people may develop symptoms of HPV years after contracting the infection. This can include genital warts.

A person with HPV symptoms may have painless warts on their vagina, penis, or anus. These may appear flat or bumpy, but they are too small to see in some cases.

Learn more about how long genital warts last.

HPV in males

According to the CDC, many males with HPV do not develop symptoms. If the infection does not go away on its own, it may be more likely to cause genital warts or penile, anal, or oropharyngeal cancer.

Males with a weakened immune system and those who engage in anal sex may have a higher chance of developing cancers from anal HPV.

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Some people with HPV may not have any symptoms. If a person believes they may be at risk of getting HPV, they can take a test at home or a healthcare clinic.

HPV usually does not need treatment. Most HPV cases will go away by themselves within 2 years.

However, there are treatment options available for people who develop genital warts, such as freezing, burning, or corroding the warts. Surgery is also available.


Cryotherapy is a procedure where a doctor freezes off genital warts. According to a 2019 study, cryotherapy has a high success rate in removing warts. The procedure can also reduce virus concentrations and remove the triggers that allow cancer to develop.

Complications can arise after undergoing cryosurgery. A person may develop:

  • an infection
  • bleeding
  • ulceration
  • swelling
  • blistering

Trichloroacetic acid

Some doctors may recommend using trichloroacetic acid. Research suggests that using trichloroacetic acid for 15 days–4 months effectively treats oral lesions resulting from HPV. Researchers also found that people generally tolerated the treatment well.

However, trichloroacetic acid is highly corrosive. Individuals should not treat HPV at home with this substance. If a doctor recommends using trichloroacetic acid, they will apply it to an individual themselves.

For home treatment, a doctor may recommend Condylox and Imiquimod.


For this procedure, medical professionals use electricity to burn warts. They use a small probe that carries electric currents running through it to burn the tissue.

They usually put a grounding pad on the body before surgery to protect against the electric current.

It is a safe procedure. However, according to 2021 research, risks include:

  • delayed bleeding
  • scarring
  • hypopigmentation
  • burns
  • smoke inhalation
  • toxic gas production


Some people may have surgery to remove genital warts. It involves using a scalpel, surgical shaver, scissors, or a curette, a device with a shape resembling a spoon.

It takes place under local anesthesia.

This may cause pain, irritation, or skin scarring.

Laser surgery

Physicians may recommend that a person has a laser surgery procedure that takes place in a clinic, hospital, or outpatient surgery center.

They use a laser to destroy genital warts and may use local or general anesthesia, depending on the number of warts and the size of the area they are treating.

Laser surgery may cause some risks, such as:

  • vaginal or penile discharge
  • scarring
  • swelling
  • itching
  • sores

Loop electrosurgical excision procedure

Loop electrosurgical excision procedure (LEEP) may be an option to treat HPV in the cervix. It involves using a loop that carries an electric current that surgeons pass across the cervix to remove unwanted tissue.

The American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists states that heavy bleeding is common within 3 weeks of having LEEP.

The procedure may also increase the risk of having future pregnancy problems, such as premature labor.

Learn more about how long HPV takes to go away here.

The CDC recommends that individuals aged 11-12 get the HPV vaccine, which protects them from HPV infections that may cause vaginal, vulval, and cervical cancer.

HPV vaccines may cause some side effects, such as:

The following are three HPV vaccines approved by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA):


Gardasil is an HPV vaccine that researchers may also refer to it as the human papillomavirus quadrivalent vaccine. It is no longer in use in the U.S. but is still available for HPV protection in other countries.

It protects the body from HPV types 6, 11, 16, and 18.

People who are pregnant or are planning to get pregnant should ask a doctor if it is safe for them to have the HPV vaccine

The FDA mentions some adverse effects that may appear following Gardasil vaccination:

Some individuals may also develop Guillain-Barré syndrome, a neurological disorder that causes muscle weakness.

Gardasil 9

Gardasil 9 is available for females between 9–45 years of age to help prevent cervical, anal, and neck cancer that may occur from HPV types 16, 18, 31, 33, 45, 52, and 58.

It may also be beneficial in preventing the formation of genital warts that may appear from HPV types 6 and 11.

The most common side effects that appear after getting the Gardasil 9 vaccine are pain, swelling, redness, and headaches.

According to the NCI, Gardasil is highly effective in protecting individuals against HPV infections.


The FDA recommends Cervarix for females aged 9–25. It offers protection against cervical intraepithelial neoplasia (CIN) grade 1, cervical cancer, and cervical intraepithelial neoplasia (CIN) grade 2.

A person may develop swollen glands following vaccination.

A 2020 study found that females who received the Cervarix vaccine had more protection against new infections, such as HPV types 31, 33, and 45.

Learn more about the HPV shot.

There are two prescription treatments a person can use at home to help treat HPV-related warts.


Imiquimod is a prescription cream that can treat genital warts. A person typically applies it once a day, three times a week for up to 16 weeks.

Individuals should never use this cream internally and always wash off the medication according to the instructions on the prescription.

A person should avoid sexual intercourse while using Imiquimod because it can weaken the strength of condoms, dental dams, and other barrier contraceptive methods.

Some online pharmacies, such as Blink Health, offer Imiquimod for purchase. Individuals will need an existing prescription to buy this medication.

At the time of publication, Imiquimod costs around $54.

Condylox (podofilox)

Condylox is a prescription solution that doctors may prescribe for treating genital warts. Individuals should follow the doctor’s instructions on how to apply this treatment.

Typically, people will apply Condylox once in the morning and once in the evening, 12 hours apart, for 3 days. If the warts do not go away 4 days after the last treatment, people can repeat this process up to three more times. Individuals should always leave 4 days between the last day of treatment and the next cycle.

People should avoid sexual intercourse while using this treatment.

Blink Health offers Condylox for purchase. Individuals will need an existing prescription to buy this medication.

At the time of publication, Condylox costs around $65.

A person should speak with a doctor if they know or suspect they may have HPV. A doctor can advise individuals on whether they need any STI testing and determine whether treatment is necessary.

Doctors may prescribe medications such as Imiquimod or Condylox. Individuals can purchase these from pharmacies or use an online pharmacy service to deliver the medication to a location of their choice.

Sometimes, a doctor may recommend surgery, cryotherapy, or trichloroacetic acid to treat genital warts. These treatments are only available from a person’s healthcare team.

As some forms of HPV do not show symptoms, and some types can increase cancer risk, it is essential to have regular cancer screening. A doctor can advise individuals on how regularly a person needs screenings.

Below, we provide answers to some frequently asked questions.

What is the best treatment for HPV?

There is no cure for the HPV virus, but a person can treat the symptoms, such as genital warts.

Treatments that physically remove warts may be the most effective.

However, many people prefer topical treatments, and HPV can sometimes go away on its own.

A person should speak with a doctor about which treatment is best for them.

Can HPV be cured completely?

There is no cure for HPV, but sometimes the virus can clear up on its own within 2 years.

There are different treatments to get rid of the symptoms of HPV, such as genital warts, but symptoms may come back after treatment if a person still has the HPV virus.

It is important to attend screening exams for HPV and cervical cancer. This can help doctors monitor, diagnose, and treat HPV symptoms and complications.

What happens if HPV is left untreated?

The HPV virus can go away on its own. If left untreated and it does not naturally disappear, it may cause genital warts or cancer.

A person should always speak with a doctor if they think they have HPV.

HPV is the most common STI in the world. HPV can be high or low risk. Some forms of HPV may cause genital warts.

A doctor cannot cure HPV, but they can treat a person’s symptoms. A doctor may recommend surgery, cryotherapy, or prescribe creams or solutions to get rid of genital warts at home.

The CDC recommends that all children 11–12 years or older receive their HPV vaccine to prevent this infection.