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Can I treat genital warts by myself?

I’ve had genital warts for about a year, and have made several trips to a clinic for treatment with cryotherapy [freezing warts with liquid nitrogen spray]. I’ve lost my health insurance, though, and can’t afford to have new warts treated. The treatment was little more than the nurse zapping the warts with the spray. Could I buy one of these units and just do it myself?

Expert answer

I hear you about the difficulty of getting treatment when you don’t have insurance. That has to be beyond frustrating. Please don’t try and freeze the genital warts yourself, as it can be hard to control how much tissue is destroyed, both surface area and depth. Genital skin is much different from that found in other areas, and can be tricky to work with even in medical settings. The units sold online are meant to be used by trained clinical staff and are not approved by the FDA for self-care.

There are at least three prescription medicines you can apply yourself that can be effective in treating genital warts. Some are reasonably inexpensive, although they can take several weeks to show an effect. They are likely to be less costly than the $500 figure you quote above.

Have you tried either your city/county health department, or a Planned Parenthood clinic? Often they offer free or sliding scale treatment options, or can refer you to someone who offers lower cost treatment. Another tactic is to try and see if you can work out a payment plan with a provider. Is there a medical school with a teaching hospital nearby? Get in touch with them to see what they offer.

You can search for clinics in your area by zip code here (provided by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention).

–J. Dennis Fortenberry, MD, MS