Molluscum contagiosum and warts are so similar in appearance that they are even sometimes confused by medical professionals! Although the two conditions have many things in common, there are a number of differences that set them apart.
Both molluscum contagiosum and warts are caused by a DNA virus: the molluscum contagiosum virus (MCV) and the human papillomavirus (HPV), respectively. Luckily, another similarity they have is that they are both generally benign. Damage to either of the conditions (such as scratching, shaving, or otherwise breaking the skin) can lead to them spreading. Additionally, they can both be spread by skin-to-skin contact, despite a common wart myth that they aren’t contagious. Also, both can lead to scarring, which may require cosmetic services to address.
The Notable Differences
Although warts are caused by the common virus HPV that can also be transmitted sexually, molluscum contagiosum warts are caused by a virus related to smallpox. While warts often appear on the palms of the hands and the soles of the feet, molluscum lesions can occur anywhere on the body. While HPV has been linked to several types of cancer, namely cervical cancer, the MCV virus that causes molluscum contagiosum does not have such associations. This means that unlike with molluscum contagiosum, wart treatment can involve chemotherapy. Another main difference is the time at which the outbreak disappears: when molluscum contagiosum lesions and papules disappear, the virus has left the body, but the HPV virus remains present even after the warts have vanished.
Differences in Assessment
The assessment and treatment of molluscum contagiosum and warts often overlap, but there are differences here as well. Warts can be either defined or flat, round or “carpeted.” However, molluscum contagiosum papules often have a uniform, very round appearance. They are generally between 2 and 5mm in diameter, with a dimple in the center and a white core that can be squeezed out.
Although many professionals confuse warts with molluscum contagiosum, we at The Dermatology Clinic are familiar with the assessment and treatment of each condition. For more information about the HPV or MCV virus or any other skin condition, schedule an appointment with us today.