Fluorouracil (5-FU) for Genital Warts (Human Papillomavirus)

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Fluorouracil (5-FU) for Genital Warts (Human Papillomavirus)


Generic NameBrand Name
fluorouracil (5-FU)Efudex, Fluoroplex

Fluorouracil has not been approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) for the treatment of genital warts. Using fluorouracil to treat genital warts is an unlabeled use of the medicine.

Application of 5% cream

Fluorouracil is applied 1 to 3 times a week for several weeks as needed to clear the warts. To reduce skin sensitivity, the cream can be washed off 3 to 10 hours after it is applied.

The surrounding normal tissue can be protected with petroleum jelly (such as Vaseline) or another ointment to prevent irritation. For men, the skin at the tip of the penis should be protected with an ointment.

You should not wear tight-fitting underwear, because it might smear the medicine to other areas.

A skin reaction may not occur until 3 to 4 days after the cream is applied. If the reaction is severe, you should stop treatment.

How It Works

Fluorouracil prevents human papillomavirus (HPV), which causes genital warts, from reproducing.

Why It Is Used

Fluorouracil is used after other treatment options have failed. Fluorouracil is not the first medicine doctors recommend for genital warts.

Fluorouracil may be used at home after a doctor shows you how to apply it.

Fluorouracil may be most useful for treating warts on the vulva, penis, and anal area and at the opening to the urethra.

How Well It Works

Fluorouracil may initially remove warts, but studies have not completely evaluated its effectiveness.1

Side Effects

All medicines have side effects. But many people don't feel the side effects, or they are able to deal with them. Ask your pharmacist about the side effects of each medicine you take. Side effects are also listed in the information that comes with your medicine.

Here are some important things to think about:

  • Usually the benefits of the medicine are more important than any minor side effects.
  • Side effects may go away after you take the medicine for a while.
  • If side effects still bother you and you wonder if you should keep taking the medicine, call your doctor. He or she may be able to lower your dose or change your medicine. Do not suddenly quit taking your medicine unless your doctor tells you to.

Call 911 or other emergency services right away if you have:

  • Trouble breathing.
  • Swelling of your face, lips, tongue, or throat.

Call your doctor right away if you have:

  • Hives.
  • Redness and swelling of normal skin.

Common side effects of this medicine include:

  • Burning feeling where medicine is applied.
  • Increased sensitivity of skin to sunlight.
  • Itching.
  • Oozing.
  • Skin rash.
  • Soreness or tenderness of skin.

See Drug Reference for a full list of side effects. (Drug Reference is not available in all systems.)

What To Think About

Genital warts may go away on their own. Treating genital warts does not cure a human papillomavirus (HPV) infection. The virus may remain in the body in an inactive state after warts are removed. A person treated for genital warts may still be able to spread the infection. Condoms may help reduce the risk of HPV infection.

Taking medicine

Medicine is one of the many tools your doctor has to treat a health problem. Taking medicine as your doctor suggests will improve your health and may prevent future problems. If you don't take your medicines properly, you may be putting your health (and perhaps your life) at risk.

There are many reasons why people have trouble taking their medicine. But in most cases, there is something you can do. For suggestions on how to work around common problems, see the topic Taking Medicines as Prescribed.

Advice for women

Do not use this medicine if you are pregnant or planning to get pregnant. If you need to take this medicine, talk to your doctor about how you can prevent pregnancy.


Follow-up care is a key part of your treatment and safety. Be sure to make and go to all appointments, and call your doctor if you are having problems. It's also a good idea to know your test results and keep a list of the medicines you take.

Complete the new medication information form (PDF)(What is a PDF document?) to help you understand this medication.



  1. Buck HW (2010). Warts (genital), search date December 2009. Online version of BMJ Clinical Evidence: http://www.clinicalevidence.com.


ByHealthwise Staff
Primary Medical ReviewerSarah Marshall, MD - Family Medicine
Specialist Medical ReviewerKirtly Jones, MD - Obstetrics and Gynecology
Last RevisedJune 21, 2012

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