Operational Medicine Medical Education and Training

Human Papilloma Virus (HPV)

Clinical Warts

Condyloma acuminata, (venereal warts) are caused by a virus known as "Human Papilloma Virus" (HPV).

There are two categories of warts, clinical and subclinical. Clinical warts appear as tiny, cauliflower-like, raised lesions around the opening of the vagina or inside the vagina. These lesions appear flesh-colored or white, are not tender and have a firm to hard consistency. If they are on the outside of the vagina or vulva, they are generally symptomatic, causing itching, burning, and an uncomfortable sensation during intercourse. If they are inside the vagina, they generally cause no symptoms.

Condyloma on the hymeneal ring

Human Papilloma Virus (HPV)

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Condyloma on the vaginal wall

Subclinical Warts

The second category, subclinical warts, are invisible to the naked eye, are flat and colorless. They usually do not cause symptoms, although they may cause similar symptoms to the raised warts. These subclinical warts can be visualized if the skin is first soaked for 2-3 minutes with vinegar (3-4% acetic acid) and then viewed under magnification (4-10X) using a green or blue (red-free) light source.

Venereal warts are not dangerous and have virtually no malignant potential. Clinical warts may be a nuisance and so are usually treated. Subclinical warts are usually not treated since they are not a nuisance (most people with subclinical warts are unaware of their presence).


Treatment consists of removal of the wart. This can be accomplished in any number of ways, some more painful than others:

Apply a small amount of bichloracetic acid (80-90%) directly to the wart, taking care to avoid spreading the acid onto the normal surrounding skin. For larger lesions, use a cotton-tipped applicator dipped in the acid. For smaller lesions, use the "stick" end of the cotton-tipped applicator. Apply enough acid (very tiny amounts) to cause the lesion to turn white, but not so much that it runs down onto the normal surrounding skin.  No anesthetic is necessary. The patient may feel nothing, some slight tingling, or a minor stinging. After a minute or two, rinse the skin with warm water to dilute any remaining acid and prevent it from coming into contact with the surrounding skin.

Try to use less acid than you think will be effective since the patient would rather return for a second, third or fourth treatment than recover from a serious acid burn of the vulva. Don't use acid inside the vagina or on the cervix.

Cryosurgery can effectively remove warts. Freezing the wart with any convenient tool (liquid nitrogen, cryosurgical probe, etc.) can be done without anesthetic and results in sloughing of the wart in a week or two. Be careful not to freeze normal skin. Two freeze-thaw cycles usually work better than a single freeze-thaw cycle.

Cryosurgery should not be done inside the vagina or on the cervix unless you have been specially trained to do this as damage to other structures can occur.

Podophyllum resin can be applied directly to the wart, followed by washing off the residual podophyllin in 3-6 hours. This effective approach runs the risk of podophyllin toxicity. This is a minor issue if the wart is very small and you use tiny quantities of podophyllin. If you use large amounts, or apply it inside the vagina, toxicity is a real issue.

Don't apply large amounts of podophyllin and don't apply any inside the vagina or on the cervix.

Under anesthetic, warts can be surgically removed, burned, or electrocuted, but such methods are usually unnecessary for the typical small wart(s).

If untreated, many warts will gradually resolve and disappear spontaneously, but this may require many months or years.

Remember that in treating the warts, you are actually destroying the patient's skin which has responded in a strange and annoying way to the presence of the HPV. You are not getting rid of the HPV itself.

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Operational Obstetrics & Gynecology
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Bureau of Medicine and Surgery
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