Your doctor usually can diagnose warts by examining the area. By looking at the area, your doctor also can determine what treatment may be necessary and if a biopsy should be done to look for cancer. In a biopsy, a small piece of tissue is removed and examined under a microscope.
People with plantar warts usually complain of pain on the bottom of their feet when walking. If you have possible plantar warts, your doctor will examine your foot and make sure there are no bone, joint or tendon problems that would explain the pain.
If you have possible genital warts, your doctor will ask about your sex habits, including whether you practice safe sex (because condoms may protect against HPV transmission) or engage in anal sex, which increases the risk for warts near the anus. In women with genital warts, the doctor may examine the surface of the cervix and vagina using an instrument called a colposcope. This tubelike instrument has a light and lenses to give the doctor a magnified view of the cervix and nearby vaginal skin. A biopsy of abnormal cervical tissue may be necessary to look for cervical cancer. A Pap smear will be done to look for microscopic precancer or early cancer of the cervix.
Sometimes, HPV infection is detected on a routine Pap smear. Follow-up Pap smears or colposcopy will be recommended by your doctor based on your other risk factors for developing cervical cancer.
DNA tests can identify the specific types of HPV infection in cells taken from a woman's cervix. The test helps to identify women who have the types of HPV infection associated with the development of cervical cancer. Many doctors use this test in women with inconclusive or abnormal Pap smears, so that women at higher risk of developing cancer can have colposcopy and biopsies earlier, while women who do not have the worrisome types of DNA in their cervical cells can safely delay additional testing.
Many warts disappear on their own, but this may take one or two years. Others last for longer periods.