Biopsy of Genital Warts (Human Papillomavirus)

Search Knowledgebase

Topic Contents

Biopsy of Genital Warts (Human Papillomavirus)

Examination Overview

Your doctor may take a sample, or biopsy, of abnormal tissue. The majority of warts do not require a biopsy. But a biopsy may be taken if genital warts cannot be easily identified with a physical examination or during a gynecology examination with a lighted magnifying instrument (colposcopy). A microscopic examination on the biopsied tissue can help your doctor determine whether human papillomavirus (HPV) is present.

The biopsy can be done in your doctor's office or clinic. You may have an injection of a numbing medicine (local anesthetic). This is more likely to be used for biopsies of the outer genital area on both men and women: this includes the vulva, scrotum, or penis. The injection can be painful. But local anesthetic is necessary when the biopsy is likely to be more painful than the injection.

There usually are no complications after a biopsy.

Why It Is Done

You may have a biopsy if any of the following are true:

  • Your doctor is not sure what type of abnormal tissue is present.
  • Warts have not responded to treatment.
  • Warts appear unusual.

Results

Findings of a biopsy may include the following:

Normal

No abnormal cells are found, which usually means that an HPV is not present.

Abnormal

Abnormal cells called koilocytes are found. Koilocytes are cells that appear hollow or concave when examined under a microscope. Koilocyte cells collected from the genital or anal areas are abnormal and indicate infection with the human papillomavirus (HPV).

Other types of skin lesions also may be found.

Abnormal cervical cell changes caused by HPV will be treated differently than genital warts.

What To Think About

Treatment for abnormal cells includes watchful waiting without treatment, medical treatment, or removal of the abnormal tissue.

The decision to do a biopsy will be based on whether biopsy results are likely to affect treatment.

If a biopsy confirms male genital, vaginal, or perianal warts, medical treatment is an option.

Sexual intercourse should be avoided until the biopsy area is healed.

Complete the medical test information form (PDF) (What is a PDF document?) to help you prepare for this test.

Credits

By Healthwise Staff
Primary Medical Reviewer Sarah Marshall, MD - Family Medicine
Primary Medical Reviewer Brian D. O'Brien, MD - Internal Medicine
Specialist Medical Reviewer Jeanne Marrazzo, MD, MPH - Infectious Disease
Last Revised August 27, 2010

This information does not replace the advice of a doctor. Healthwise, Incorporated disclaims any warranty or liability for your use of this information.