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Memphis Dermatologist: Why Warts Matter

Memphis Dermatologists like myself spend a lot of time diagnosing and treating warts. So what is a wart? A wart, or verruca vulgaris, is a hard, raised growth in the skin, developing over days to months. Warts are now known to be due to an infection in the skin by a virus, called a papillomavirus. So why are warts important?

First, warts can affect the whole family, and warts are contagious, meaning that they can spread to friends of family members.

The personal in the photo above has what's called a "plantar wart," meaning one that occurs in a site where you plant your foot.

Secondly, warts can spread: one wart can become ten warts, if the infection spreads to other areas of your own skin.

Thirdly, even though warts are considered benign, rather than cancerous or malignant, warts frequently become sore or painful, at times causing people to walk in an atypical fashion, particularly if the wart is on the bottom of one’s foot, thereby increasing future risk of arthritis.

The photo above is actually not a wart, but a type of skin cancer called a melanoma! Did you realize that what you thought was a wart might could it be a skin cancer? And certain warts are what we call oncogenic, meaning that certain strains predispose people to developing future cancer in that area of the body, such as squamous cell cancer, or squamous cell carcinoma.

In developing a care plan for a wart infection, we dermatologists prioritize minimizing discomfort to the patient as well as to minimizing risk of scarring. Most warts are accordingly treated with what’s called cryotherapy, which means “freezing therapy:” Dermatologists apply liquid nitrogen to the lesions to cause the skin to blister, then heal. But if the warts are thick, or if there is a chance of development of skin cancer, we prefer to surgically remove the warts – or excise them – so we can send the tissue off to the lab. This type of treatment frequently requires a shot of some local lidocaine anesthetic, and at times it requires stitches to reduce the scar.