Quick Study: Best approach for warts may be freezing them off
Attacking common warts with cold seems better than using an acidic gel
THE QUESTION People often try to get rid of warts on their hands or feet by having them frozen off or by destroying them with an acidic solution. Sometimes the growths are left to go away on their own. Does one method work better than others?
THIS STUDY involved 250 people, 4 to 79 years old, who had common warts (mostly on their fingers) or plantar warts (warts on the feet). They were randomly assigned to be given cryotherapy (a freezing treatment) with liquid nitrogen every two weeks, to apply a gel containing salicylic acid to the warts daily or to use no treatment on the warts. After 13 weeks, the warts were gone among 39 percent of those who had cryotherapy, compared with 24 percent who applied the gel and 16 percent who did nothing. The cure rate for cryotherapy was best for people who had common warts (49 percent, vs. 15 percent for salicylic acid). With plantar warts, however, there was essentially no difference in effectiveness among the three groups. Side effects, including pain and blistering, were more common and more severe among those whose warts were frozen, but a bigger share of that group compared with the others reported being satisfied with their treatment.
WHO MAY BE AFFECTED? People with warts, which are common skin growths caused by infection with the human papillomavirus (HPV). Often they are painless and disappear without treatment, though this can take up to two years. Warts that cause pain or that spread quickly may need to be treated.
CAVEATS The gel used in the study contained 40 percent salicylic acid; standard over-the-counter salves for warts contain 17 percent salicylic acid. The freezing treatment was done by health professionals, whereas the topical gel was applied by the participants themselves.
FIND THIS STUDY Sept. 13 issue of the Canadian Medical Association Journal.
-- Linda Searing
The research described in Quick Study comes from credible, peer-reviewed journals. Nonetheless, conclusive evidence about a treatment's effectiveness is rarely found in a single study. Anyone considering changing or beginning treatment of any kind should consult with a physician.