Cervical polyps are benign growths that look like small fingers or globules on stalks located on the cervix. Although polyps themselves are not harmful, because cancerous growths can resemble polyps, it is necessary to remove the growths for biopsy to confirm a diagnosis. Usually these growths are identified by a gynecologist and they can be removed during a routine pelvic exam.
The causes for polyps are not fully understood. They are most likely to develop in women who are menstruating, and women with at least one child are at increased risk. Inflammation or infection of the cervix has been cited as a possible cause, and it is also possible that polyps may form in reaction to exposure to estrogen and other sex hormones. A woman can have a single polyp, or multiple growths, and they can vary in color from white to bright red.
Sometimes there are no symptoms associated with cervical polyps and a patient may not be aware of the growths until she is receiving an exam for unrelated reasons. In other patients, the growths may lead to a smelly discharge, abnormal bleeding, and painful sexual intercourse. The growths will be readily visible on a pelvic exam and a surgical instrument can be used to carefully remove them. Pain management may be provided to make the patient feel more comfortable while the growths are removed from the cervix.
After removal, the growths can be inspected under a microscope to determine what kinds of cells are involved. True cervical polyps will contain benign cells and no additional treatment or follow-up is needed. Cancerous growths will have different kinds of cells and treatment may be recommended to remove the rest of the cancer, if any has been left behind. Patients should also be aware that in around one percent of cases, cervical polyps can become cancerous, even though they start out benign.
When a gynecologist identifies tissue changes in or around the cervix and recommends a biopsy, patients can ask for more detail about what kinds of growths are involved and the possible outcomes of a biopsy. Doctors prefer to be safe rather than sorry, and even if growths are probably cervical polyps, a biopsy will be recommended just in case. Patients with a history of cervical changes including abnormal pap smear results or previous incidences of cervical polyps should make sure that their physicians are aware of this history, as this information can be relevant to diagnosis and treatment.