A cervical polyp is a common benign tumor on the surface of the cervical canal. They cause irregular menstrual bleeding but often show little symptoms.
What is cervical polyp?
A cervical polyp is a growth that develops on the surface of the cervix. The cervix is the gynecological structure of the female reproductive system that connects the uterus to the vagina.
Symptoms are often absent with cervical polyps. However, in some cases, you may experience bleeding between menstrual periods, after sexual intercourse, bleeding that is heavier in general, as well as discharge that is thick, foul-smelling, or different colors.
Treatment almost always includes removal and closer evaluation of polyps for presence of cancer; however, the vast majority are benign.
You should speak with your primary care physician or OB/GYN about these symptoms.
Cervical polyp symptoms
Many times, cervical polyps are asymptomatic, meaning most women do not have symptoms and often do not even know they have a polyp. About 50 percent of women are unaware of their presence until they are discovered by a routine cervical smear or pap smear test. However, some women experience symptoms which include:
- Bleeding between menstrual periods
- Heavier bleeding: This will occur during menstrual periods.
- Bleeding after sexual intercourse: Some polyps even detach during this time.
- Discharge: This can be thick, foul-smelling, and different colors in the setting of infection.
Polyps can vary in appearance, but can generally be described by:
- Color: They may be bright red, to reddish-purple, to gray or dull white.
- Size and shape: Polyps look like bulbs on stalks and can vary in size from approximately 1 to 2 centimeters long.
- Various locations: They often develop in the area of the cervix that is closest to the opening of the vagina, however, they can grow in other locations along the cervix in groups or individually.
Cervical polyp causes
There is no clear explanation for why cervical polyps develop. However, there is a strong association with inflammation of the cervix, which often occurs in cases of bacterial or viral infection. Cervical polyps may also develop due to raised levels of circulating estrogen in the body.
There are two particular ways in which cervical polyps can form, and as such, they are divided into two categories:
- Ectocervical: This type of polyp comes from the cells of the outer surface of the cervix. They happen commonly in women who have experienced menopause.
- Endocervical: This type of polyp comes from the glands inside the cervical canal. This is the most common form of cervical polyp and happens most often in women who have not experienced menopause.
Who is most likely to be affected
Cervical polyps are very common in the female population. Women who most commonly get cervical polyps are those who have started their menstrual cycles (post-menarche) and have had at least one child. Cervical polyps are rare in girls who have not started menarche.
Treatment options and prevention for cervical polyp
Cervical polyps are usually benign (not cancerous); however, since some, rare types of cancerous conditions can look like polyps, and about one percent of benign polyps can show cancerous changes, they are always removed to treat symptoms and examined more closely.
Sometimes a small polyp will come off on its own during sexual intercourse or during a menstrual cycle; however, it is important to have the polyp examined for signs of cancer, so it is always best to see your physician for treatment. Treatment options include a gentle surgery performed in-office or surgery that requires anesthesia.
The polyp will be removed surgically in your physician's office with an instrument called a polyp forceps. The forceps are used to secure the base of the polyp stalk and remove the polyp with a twisting motion. The procedure is gentle and bleeding is usually brief and minor.
Surgery requiring anesthesia
Large polyps and polyp stems that are very broad need to be removed in an operating room. You will have to have anesthesia local, regional or general but, you will be discharged after the procedure and will not need to stay in the hospital overnight.
The polyp is then sent to the laboratory for further evaluation. If your polyp is infected, your physician may prescribe antibiotics, and in the case that the polyp does show signs of cancer, your treatment will depend on the type and extent of the cancer. Your physician will talk to you extensively about cancer types and treatment options if that is the case.
Cervical polyps may regrow in different areas of the cervix but usually not from the original site. Regular pelvic examinations with your physician are the best way to help identify and prevent polyps from causing symptoms.
The prognosis is very good for cervical polyps. The vast majority are benign (not cancerous), and cervical polyps are very unlikely to regrow after surgical removal.
When to seek further consultation for cervical polyp
If you experience vaginal discharge, bleeding after intercourse, or bleeding between periods, make an appointment to see your physician as soon as possible for a pelvic exam.
Questions your doctor may ask to determine cervical polyp
- Do you feel pain when you urinate?
- When was the last time you had sex?
- Has your vaginal discharge been getting better or worse?
- How long has your vaginal discharge been going on?
- Is your vaginal discharge constant or come-and-go?
Self-diagnose with our free Buoy Assistant if you answer yes on any of these questions.
Dr. Gambrah-Lyles is a resident pediatrician at the Children's Hospital of Philadelphia. She is a graduate of the University of Pennsylvania Perelman School of Medicine (2019). She graduated cum laude and received her undergraduate degree in Biochemistry and Spanish from Washington University in St. Louis (2013). Her research explores the intersections between neurology, public health, and infectious disease. She has investigated nutrition and cerebral palsy in Botswana, and completed a year-long project in Brazil, researching growth and developmental outcomes of Zika virus infection in pediatric patients as a Doris Duke International Scholar. Dr. Gambrah-Lyles speaks four languages, loves staying active, and enjoys sharing her love for medicine through teaching and writing.
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