DEAR DR. DONOHUE: I had a Pap smear that said I was infected with the wart virus. My doctor has me scared to death. He told me that these warts become cancer and there is no way to treat them. So what do I do? Sit around and wait to die from cancer? – D.A.

Your doctor is far too pessimistic. Genital warts are not that grim.

Papillomaviruses are responsible for all warts – including those on the fingers, the soles of the feet and the genitals. They are a huge family of viruses numbering around 100 different strains. Only a few of those strains are guilty of creating genital warts, and fewer still of causing cancer changes.

The cancer in question is cervical cancer. The cervix is the necklike projection of the uterus into the vagina. Cervical cancer is a common cancer, but, thanks to Pap smears, early detection and cure are possible in most instances. This is an example of an infection having the potential to become cancer.

You don’t have to sit around and wait for cancer to kill you. There is a raft of effective treatments for genital warts. Doctors can freeze them, dry them up with an electric current or turn a laser beam on them. Creams and gels are available for treatment. So is a viscous liquid that has the consistency of thick maple syrup. Treatment is based on the number of warts, their size, their location, the doctor’s special skill and the patient’s wishes.

Warts can recur. For that reason Pap smears are often scheduled at three-month intervals for six months after initial treatment, then stretched out to every six months for the next year, and then yearly. This schedule is used when warts do not recur. If they come back, then more frequent exams are necessary.

A vaccine is in the works to protect women against papillomaviruses.

Readers who would like more information can order the pamphlet on herpes and genital warts. Write to: Dr. Donohue – No. 1202, Box 536475 Orlando, FL 32853-6475. Enclose a check or money order (no cash) for $4.50 U.S./$6.50 Can. with the recipient’s printed name and address. Please allow four weeks for delivery.

DEAR DR. DONOHUE: While inline skating, my daughter, 16, broke her leg. She had a slight cut in the skin over the break. She had been scheduled to have the cast removed next week, but she began to feel sick and have a fever. The broken bone is infected. What can we expect? – R.R.

You can anticipate cure of infection and healing of the broken bone. However, she faces protracted treatment and disappointment that she cannot return to normal life in one week.

Your daughter has osteomyelitis (OS-tee-oh-MY-ul-LITE-us) – bone infection. Her bone might have become infected from bacteria that gained access through the small cut on her skin when she broke the leg. Or the source might never be discovered.

At any rate, she will need to go on antibiotics, and that could require hospitalization, with the antibiotics given in an intravenous drip. When her fever goes away, the doctor might allow you to treat her at home with oral or intravenous antibiotics.

Candor requires that I tell you that not every case of osteomyelitis is treated successfully. If, for example, there is an abscess in the bone, then surgery has to be part of treatment.

DEAR DR. DONOHUE: I have a friend who eats ice constantly. Is this normal? What might cause it? Could it ruin her health? – C.B.

The compulsive eating of materials that truly qualify as junk food is pica. Ice, clay, starch, plaster and grass are but a few of the pica delicacies. Sometimes pica is associated with an iron deficiency, and supplemental iron suppresses the cravings. At other times, it happens without an identifiable cause.

Your friend’s health is not in jeopardy from ice – except for her teeth. If she is trying to stop and can’t, her family doctor can direct her to a person skilled in dealing with pica.

If her mouth is always dry, that might be the reason for her fondness for ice. That’s a different story.

Dr. Donohue regrets that he is unable to answer individual letters, but he will incorporate them in his column whenever possible. Readers may write him or request an order form of available health newsletters at P.O. Box 536475, Orlando, FL 32853-6475.

Only subscribers are eligible to post comments. Please subscribe or to participate in the conversation. Here’s why.

Use the form below to reset your password. When you've submitted your account email, we will send an email with a reset code.