A polyp is a small lump that grows in some parts of the body. For women, it is not unusual to get polyps at some stage prior to or after menopause. They are usually found in the cervix (the neck of the womb) or in the endometrium (the lining of uterus).
The cervix is a narrow passage that connects the uterine cavity and the upper portion of the vagina. It facilitates the transportation of sperm to the egg for fertilisation.
Cervical polyps grow from stalks rooted on the surface of the cervix or inside of the cervical canal and can usually can be seen outside the uterus at the tip of the cervix.
They are usually benign, meaning they are non-cancerous, and can be treated quite easily by simply removing them.
The endometrium is the tissue that lines the inner cavity of the uterus.
Uterine polyps grow in the endometrium and extend into the uterine cavity, and therefore are sometimes referred to as endometrial polyps. They are caused by the overgrowth of cells in the endometrial tissue.
For both types, there is usually only one present at a time, and no more than a few. They range in size from a few millimetres to a few centimetres or bigger. They are usually benign, but a very small percentage become cancerous and thus they should be removed to eliminate any risk.
Symptoms of Polyps
Despite usually being benign, they can cause a number of symptoms that are quite uncomfortable and can affect a woman’s day-to-day life.
• Irregular menstrual bleeding (meaning periods are unpredictable or vary in length and heaviness)
• Unusually heavy menstrual bleeding
• Bleeding in between periods
• Bleeding after menopause
• Bleeding after intercourse
• They can also cause infertility
Sometimes polyps are very small and will not cause any symptoms, and many women don’t even notice their existence.
Causes of Polyps
The exact cause is unknown, however, their formation has been linked to a number of risk factors:
• Increased levels of estrogen, which causes a thickening of the endometrium
• Clogged blood vessels
• Inflammation of the cervix
• Tamoxifen (a medication for the treatment of breast cancer)
• High blood pressure
Polyps that do not cause any symptoms usually do not require treatment. However, if they are causing heavy bleeding or irregular during menstrual periods, are suspected of being cancerous, are present during pregnancy or after menopause, or are causing infertility, removal is necessary.
Cervical Polyps – can be treated by simply removing them. This might be a straightforward outpatient procedure, meaning it won’t require a stay in hospital. For larger ones, the procedure may require a general anaesthetic to be administered, with the removal aided by a small telescope. This is known as a hysteroscopy. These procedures are usually very effective.
Uterine Polyps – Like larger cervical polyps, removal of uterine polyps will require a hysteroscopy.
There are some hormonal medications that can help treat the symptoms of polyps, however, these only provide temporary relief of symptoms.
If your polyp has been found to contain cancerous cells, then your gynaecologist will discuss further options for treatment, such an a hysterectomy (removal of the womb).
Polyps cannot be prevented, so it is important that you see your gynecologist regularly for a checkup. Cervical polyps are commonly detected during a cervical smear, which is recommended every two years. If you have symptoms such as heavy or irregular periods, or bleeding after menopause, it is important to see your gynaecologist.
If you have any questions regarding polyps, or would like to book an appointment with a gynaecologist and obstetrician in the Hills District of Sydney, please get in touch. We will strive to give you guidance and compassionate care in every way possible.