Cervical polyps

Cervical polyps are small growths that form from either the outside of the cervix (the neck of the womb) or inside the cervical canal (the passageway between the vagina and the womb).

Cervical polyps can cause unusual vaginal bleeding, but most are quite small and can easily be removed by your doctor.

Key points

  1. Cervical polyps are common and occur in about 2 to 5% of women.
  2. They mostly occur in women over 20 years of age who have had children.
  3. Most women have only one polyp, but some women may have two or three.
  4. In most cases cervical polyps are benign (not cancer forming) and less than 1cm in size.  
  5. The main treatment for cervical polyps is to have them removed.

Causes

The exact cause of cervical polyps is not known. Possible causes are:

  • congestion of blood vessels in the cervix
  • infection of the cervix or chronic (long-term) inflammation
  • abnormal response to an increase in oestrogen levels.

image of cervical polypImage: Cervical polyp sitting just outside the cervical passage, which connects the vagina to the womb (uterus); the endometrial polyp shown is within the womb.

Symptoms

The common symptoms of cervical polyps are:

  • unusual vaginal bleeding such as bleeding after sexual intercourse
  • bleeding between your menstrual periods
  • bleeding after you have had your menopause
  • white or yellow mucous or discharge from the vagina. 

About 50% of women have no symptoms and the polyps are only noticed during a routine cervical smear test, or pap smear.

Treatment

It is recommended that cervical polyps are removed. 

  • If the polyp is small, then it can often be removed by your doctor. To remove, the polyp is gently twisted using an instrument called polyp forceps, until the polyp tissue comes away from the cervix and is removed. 
  • After removal of the polyp, there may be bleeding and slight cramping for a few days.  
  • You will need to have a smear test three months after the polyp has been removed, even if your last smear test was normal.
  • This is because the polyp blocks access to all of the cells and the smear result may be a false negative.
  • Polyps can recur (grow again) so see your doctor if your symptoms return.

If a polyp is larger than 2 cm, has a large base, or is otherwise difficult for your doctor to remove, you are likely to be referred to your local women's health service for assessment and treatment. 

Why is it important to remove the cervical polyp?

  • Removing the polyp will ease symptoms such as bleeding after intercourse, or bleeding between your menstrual periods.
  • If left, a polyp may continue to grow.
  • In a small number of women (between 2 and 15 in every 1,000), the polyp may become abnormal and develop into cancer.

Learn more

Common problems of the cervix Patient Info, UK   
Cervical polyps Medline Plus
More images Medline Plus

References

AAGL Practice Report: Practice Guidelines for the Diagnosis and Management of Endometrial Polyps. Journal of Minimally Invasive Gynecology, Vol 19, No 1, January/February 2012 [full article]
McNeeley, S.G. Cervical Polyps. Merck Manual, Professional Version

Credits: Health Navigator NZ. Image source: 123rf.com.