Definition & Overview

A polyp is a small tissue growth that is often benign (non-cancerous), but in rare cases, may also be malignant (cancerous) as well. Polyps that grow in the cervix are normal. In fact, most women over the age of 20 have cervical polyps although they are more common in women over the age of 40.

In most cases, only one polyp grows on the cervical canal or the surface of the cervix. In some cases, there may be two, at the most three.

Cervical polyps don’t usually cause any problems. However, when they do, they can create symptoms such as abnormal bleeding and heavy menstruations.

It’s important to understand that polyps are an abnormal tissue growth. While most of them may be benign, it is possible that some are cancerous because of their very nature. Cancer cells after all, are abnormal cells that continue to grow and spread to various organs in the body.

Cervical cancer is rare. In fact, according to statistics, only about one percent of women with cervical polyps have cervical cancer.

Cause of Condition

It is not fully understood why polyps grow on the cervix. Doctors believe that increased levels of estrogen, clogged blood vessels, and/or chronic inflammation of the uterus, vagina, or the cervix itself may contribute to their formation.

A woman’s estrogen levels often fluctuate. Menstruation, pregnancy, and near menopause are the times when the estrogen levels are at their highest. Estrogen levels may also increase because of the environment. Chemicals used in plastic containers, air fresheners, and commercially produced meat products have been known to increase estrogen levels.

Infections, such as the human papillomavirus (HPV), herpes, bacteria, and yeast infections could also contribute to the growth of cervical polyps. Unfortunately, infections themselves are usually more troublesome than polyps.

If a polyp is not causing any trouble, such as excessive bleeding, it usually doesn’t need to be removed. If it does cause problems and these affect your way of life or your health, then you should see a doctor to discuss your situation.

Key Symptoms

Most polyps don’t produce any unwanted symptoms. In fact, most women don’t even know they have a polyp. The only time they would find out is if they undergo a pap smear or other cervical exam for other conditions.

If the polyp does produce symptoms, it will likely be because it has begun to bleed, which results in excessive bleeding during menstruation, or abnormal bleeding between menstruations. It is then that the polyp would have to be removed by a gynaecologist.

Who to See & Types of Treatment Available

Patients who experience excessive bleeding or are bleeding between menstruations must see a gynaecologist. These are abnormal conditions that can be caused by a variety of factors, but if the only cause is a polyp, then there shouldn’t be much to worry about.

Polyps can be removed through a minor surgical procedure that is usually performed during a cervical examination. The procedure is painless. In fact, you don’t even need to be sedated or given pain medications.

Polyps can be removed by either twisting them at the base, using forceps to remove them, or by tying a string around the base and cutting them off. If the doctor wants to reduce the chances of a polyp growing again in the same place, liquid nitrogen could be used to freeze it off, or through a procedure called electrocautery ablation. These days, modern equipment like lasers can also be used to destroy a polyp.

If these procedures are used, there may be a small amount of pain. You could also experience vaginal spotting and mild to moderate cramps days after the procedure. Most doctors choose to remove the polyp using these procedures to reduce the chance of one growing again.

However, there are risks involved, such as developing infections. To prevent this from happening, it’s best to wear cotton underwear that allows air to circulate better, avoid excessive heat, don’t let moisture develop too much in the area, and use a condom during intercourse.

It’s important to understand that prevention is not 100% guaranteed. Even though you take all the necessary precautionary measures, there is still a chance of polyp growth. It’s best not to let a polyp grow too large that it will cause complications. By undergoing periodic pelvic examinations and pap tests, the doctor will be able to discover the presence of a polyp while it is still in its early developmental stages and provide the necessary treatment as early as possible.

If the polyp remains for a longer period, the risks of it developing complications become higher. There is a possibility that the polyp may become infected and cause a yellow or white mucus vaginal discharge. If this happens, you’ll not only need to have the polyp removed, but also receive treatment for the infection.

References:

  • Katz VL. Benign gynecologic lesions. In: Lobo RA, Gershenson DM, Katz VL, eds. Comprehensive Gynecology. 6th ed. Philadelphia, Pa: Mosby Elsevier; 2012:chap 18.
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