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Cervical Polyp

  • Female reproductive organs

Definition

A cervical polyp is a small growth within or near the surface of the cervix. The cervix is the opening at the lower end of the uterus which opens into the vagina. Cervical polyps are usually benign (non-cancerous), and rarely cause symptoms.

What is going on in the body?

Cervical polyps are formed when a group of cells within the cervix form an abnormal growth. Cervical polyps are relatively common. They are seen more often in women over 20 years of age who have given birth to many children. They are rare before puberty and after menopause.
Most cervical polyps are benign, but all should be removed and examined with a microscope. Malignant changes may occur, and cancer of the cervix may first be seen as a large polyp. The chance of malignant change in a cervical polyp is less than 1%.

Risks

What are the causes and risks of the condition?

It is not known what causes cervical polyps. Their growth may be aided by estrogen, a female hormone, or by chronic cervical infection, known as cervicitis.

Prevention

What can be done to prevent the condition?

Little can be done to prevent cervical polyps. Routine pelvic exams may decrease the risk of cancer of the cervix developing from the polyp.

Diagnosed

How is the condition diagnosed?

Many cervical polyps do not cause symptoms and are found by chance during a routine pelvic examination that includes a Pap smear. During a pelvic exam, the cervix, vagina, and vulva are checked for signs of changes. To do a Pap test, a healthcare professional uses a small spatula and a brush to gently scrape cells from the cervix. These cells are sent to a lab for testing.

Long Term Effects

What are the long-term effects of the condition?

Since 99% of polyps are benign, there are no serious long-term problems. Vaginal bleeding patterns may be unpredictable. There is a less than 1% risk that cervical polyps may turn into cancer.

Other Risks

What are the risks to others?

A cervical polyp, in and of itself, is not contagious and does not pose a risk to others. However, sexually transmitted infections associated with cervical polyps, such as chlamydia and human papilloma virus, are contagious.

Treatments

What are the treatments for the condition?

A cervical polyp can be removed with a simple procedure in the healthcare professional's The professional gently twists the stalk of the polyp and removes it. Removal of a polyp is called a polypectomy.
Other methods include tying the base of the polyp to minimize bleeding. Larger polyps with a thick stalk may be removed using electrical current, a procedure known as LEEP. Larger polyps may also be vaporized with laser surgery. These large polyps may require removal in an outpatient surgical center rather than the office due to the risk of excessive bleeding.

Side Effects

What are the side effects of the treatments?

Removal of the polyp usually produces minimal cramping and bleeding. Possible side effects of laser surgery and LEEP include:
  • foul-smelling vaginal discharge
  • cervicitis, which is inflammation of the cervix
  • bleeding
  • allergic reactions to the local anesthesia

After Treatment

What happens after treatment for the condition?

Women who have an abnormal Pap smear accompanied by a cervical polyp will need close follow-up with pelvic exams and Pap smears. Cervical polyps may recur if the stalk was not completely removed.

Monitor

How is the condition monitored?

Routine pelvic exams are done to check for any recurrence of the cervical polyp. Any new or worsening symptoms should be reported to the healthcare professional.

Sources

Understanding Your Body, Stewart et al., 1987

Maternity and Gynecological Care, The Nurse and the Family, Bobak et al., 1989.

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