A cervical polyp is a growth on the cervix, which is the canal connecting the uterus to the vagina. Cervical polyps are tumors, but they are usually non-cancerous.
Though cervical polyps are non-cancerous, but have a similar appearance to some signs of cancer. So, it is essential that a doctor checks them to ensure that they are benign, not cancerous.
Cervical polyps can grow either as singular masses or in clusters. They vary in size but are usually around 1–2 centimeters (cm) long.
Women in their 40s and 50s who have given birth to more than one child are more likely to develop cervical polyps. High levels of estrogen can also make pregnant people more liable to develop them.
Causes and what they look like
Cervical polyps can vary in color from a gray, almost-white color to bright red or purple. They can grow to diverse sizes and look like bulbs growing on stems. Two different types of polyp can grow on the cervix:
- Ectocervical polyps: These polyps grow on the cells in the outer surface of the cervix. Postmenopausal women are more likely to have these polyps.
- Endocervical polyps: Endocervical polyps grow from cervical glands inside the cervical canal. This type of polyp is more likely to affect women who are premenopausal. It’s still vague why some women develop polyps, although the causes may include the body responding abnormally to estrogen.
READ ALSO: What is Cervical Endometriosis?
Other causes may include:
- high estrogen levels
- clogged blood vessels
- inflammationof the cervix, vagina, or uterus
Estrogen is the female sex hormone, and levels of this hormone will rise and fall throughout a woman’s life. Estrogen levels peak during childbearing years, so cervical polyps are more likely to occur during this time.
Estrogen levels will rise during pregnancy as well.
It is also possible for chemical estrogens in products such as air fresheners to affect estrogen levels.
Inflammation of the cervix may occur due to many reasons including:
- sexually transmitted infections(STIs), like herpes and human papillomavirus (HPV)
- yeast infections
- bacterial infections
- changes in hormone levels
It is rare for people who have not started menstruating to develop cervical polyps.
Cervical polyps can develop without a woman experiencing any symptoms. Others will notice symptoms, which may include:
- bleeding after sexual intercourse
- spotting between periods
- bleeding after the menopause
- vaginal discharge that may be foul-smelling if an infection is present
- a heavier flow during periods
- bleeding after douching
When to see a doctor
Anyone who experience any of these symptoms should see their doctor as soon as possible. Apart from cervical polyps, these signs could also indicate cancer. The diagnosis of most cervical polyps takes place during routine pelvic examinations or Pap smear tests.
If a doctor detects polyps, he may remove them. The doctor will also take tissue samples, called biopsies, of the polyps to check whether they are benign or cancerous.
Most cervical polyps are benign and possible to surgically remove. Treatment may not be necessary if the polyps are not causing any symptoms or discomfort, a doctor will continue to monitor the polyps closely.
There are different methods for removing polyps. These might involve a doctor:
- using polyp forceps to take hold of the polyp and pull it out gently
- tying surgical string around the polyp before cutting it out
- twisting the polyp at its base and pulling it off
The doctor will then use liquid nitrogen, laser surgery, or electrocautery ablation to destroy the base of the polyp to prevent a re-occurrence.
Surgical removal will need to take place in an operating room at a hospital using local, regional, or general anesthesia in cases of large polyps.
The individual may experience some bleeding and cramping after removing the polyps. Over-the-counter (OTC) pain relievers should ease pain and discomfort.
The polyp or polyps will need testing to check for cancer. If a polyp is cancerous, further treatment is needed. The treatment will depend on the type of cancer.
Sometimes, cervical polyps may come away from the cervix on their own. This can happen during menstruation or sexual intercourse.
Most cases of cervical polyps cannot be prevented. However, regular pelvic examinations and Pap smear tests should enable the doctors catch any polyps and treat them on time.
Some infections could contribute to cervical polyps developing, so practicing safe sex and proper hygiene to avoid infection may be necessary.
People can also wear cotton underwear to increase the airflow to the area to prevent infections from blooming.