There are many reasons why cervical polyps might feel scary when they occur during your pregnancy. But the reality is that these growths of tissue are nearly always benign.
In fact, for the vast majority of patients, cervical polyps are non-symptomatic–to the point that most pregnant women will never notice them. In some cases, however, these polyps can end up causing some light spotting or even discomfort. In those cases, your OBGYN or Midwife can recommend appropriate treatment options.
What Are Cervical Polyps?
A cervical polyp is a growth of tissue that develops in the passage between the uterus and the vagina. In most cases, they look smooth and red (almost finger shaped), but they can sometimes be purple or gray.
Polyps themselves are relatively fragile (and, as a result, often easy for a medical professional to remove). The polyp structures grow from stalk-looking pieces of tissue that are connected to the cervix. As they grow, polyps may be visible from the vulva.
Where cervical polyps come from is unknown. There are some theories that speculate the growth of cervical polyps may have something to do with increased levels of estrogen or a history of inflammation (or injury). They do seem to be more common in women over 20 who have had at least one child (and more common still in pregnant women who are in their 40s or 50s).
Everyone wants a normal and healthy pregnancy. So it’s important to point out that cervical polyps are relatively common and can be quickly and effectively treated.
Checking for Malignancy
While cervical polyps themselves are generally non-cancerous, there are some forms of cancer that can appear similar to cervical polyps. As a result, your OBGYN or Midwife will want to perform a biopsy on your cervical polyps in order to check for malignancy. Your OBGYN or midwife will let you know what you should get checked and when, and the results of your biopsy will determine your course of treatment.
Symptoms of Cervical Polyps
In the vast majority of cases, cervical polyps may be symptomless. Many women don’t even know that they are present.
However, in some cases, cervical polyps during pregnancy can cause some noticeable symptoms:
- Spotting or bleeding
- Pain and discomfort
- Soreness after intercourse
Less commonly, you may also experience a yellow discharge. You should report these symptoms to your OBGYN or Midwife once they occur. At that point, your OBGYN or Midwife will check for the presence of polyps.
In most cases, cervical polyps are first diagnosed visually. Your OBGYN or Midwife will be able to easily see these growths during a vaginal exam. Once the polyp tissue is detected, your OBGYN or midwife may perform a biopsy to test the composition of the tissue.
Who Gets Cervical Polyps?
While cervical polyps are not incredibly common, they’re the second most common type of polyp seen during exams.. Most estimates suggest that cervical polyps occur in somewhere between 2%-5% of all women.
How likely you are to develop cervical polyps is strongly tied to age and whether you have had them in the past:
- In general, cervical polyps are most common in people over 40 who have had multiple children.
- They tend to be less common the younger you are (and the fewer children you’ve had). Cervical polyps are quite rare in young individuals who have not experienced menstruation.
How Are Cervical Polyps Treated?
If you have cervical polyps, there are several ways that they may be treated. Which one is best for you will depend on your overall health, the stage of your pregnancy, and what your OBGYN or Midwife considers the best approach.
Everyone’s body is different, so there’s no “one-size-fits-all” approach to removal of cervical polyps during pregnancy. You’ll work with your OBGYN or Midwife to develop a treatment plan that works for you and your symptoms.
Physicians tend to take a relatively conservative approach to treating cervical polyps. In cases where they are not causing symptoms or discomfort, your OBGYN or Midwife may recommend leaving your polyps in place, at least for the duration of your pregnancy.
If symptoms are particularly potent, however, or create an elevated risk of complications during delivery, your OBGYN or Midwife may recommend removal of the polyps.
What Happens When Cervical Polyps Are Removed?
Cervical polyp removal is generally a simple procedure. You might feel some mild discomfort when the polyp is removed, but it’s usually nothing that necessitates heavy pain medication. You may also experience some mild cramping for a few hours after your polyp removal. If you are concerned about pain or discomfort, you can talk to your OBGYN or Midwife about medications to help you manage that.
In general, you should be able to return to almost all normal activities (within the limits of your pregnancy) once your polyp is removed.
Can Cervical Polyps be Prevented?
Because we don’t know much about why cervical polyps form in the first place, there are no clear prevention strategies for cervical polyps. However, there are some strategies that can help you catch cervical polyps early:
- Ensure your provider knows if you have had cervical polyps in the past. In some cases, those who have had polyps in the past are more likely to develop new polyps in the future.
- Let your OBGYN or Midwife know if you are having bleeding after sex or in between menstrual cycles.
- Make appointments for regular screenings. The vast majority of polyps are detected during routine examinations with your OBGYN or Midwife.
If you are diagnosed with cervical polyps or have had them in the past, it’s important to talk to your OBGYN or Midwife about what your regular follow up care should look like. This is especially true if you’re pregnant or plan on becoming pregnant.
Will Cervical Polyps Impact My Pregnancy?
In the vast majority of cases, your cervical polyps will not have an impact on your overall pregnancy. However, there are a few things to keep in mind. There is some evidence, for example, that removing polyps in the first trimester can lead to an increased risk of spontaneous preterm birth or late abortion.
There is also the possibility that polyps left in place could complicate labor or lead to an increased risk of bleeding during labor. You’ll want to discuss your risk profile with your OBGYN or Midwife to make the best possible decisions.
What is the Long Term Outlook for Cervical Polyps During Pregnancy?
Once the polyps have been removed, the immediate problem will have been solved. But patients may wonder about the long term implications associated with polyps. And there are some things to keep an eye on.
- Recurrence: Many patients wonder whether their polyps will be a recurring concern. Usually, once they are removed, cervical polyps will not return. However, this is not a guarantee, and recurrence has been known to happen. It’s just not typical.
- Fertility: There’s some evidence to suggest that specific types of cervical polyps can impact your overall fertility. Once the polyps are removed, your fertility (if impacted) should return to normal. When you’re pregnant, this might not be your top priority, but it’s something you should talk to your OBGYN or Midwife about!
- Infection: Once polyps are removed, your OBGYN will want to make sure the site does not become infected. Your physician may provide medications or instructions designed to prevent infection. If an infection does occur, it will be treated immediately.
In most cases, cervical polyps during pregnancy are nothing to worry about. But if you have questions about any possible lingering impacts, talk with your OBGYN or midwife.
Are Polyps Different During Pregnancy?
Whether they are discovered before, during, or after your pregnancy, the physical composition of your cervical polyps will not change. So why does a polyp during pregnancy feel a little bit different?
There are a few reasons:
- Treatment may be more limited: There may be some common medications that your OBGYN or Midwife will want to avoid because you are currently pregnant. This could make removing your polyp a little more challenging.
- Increased risk of pregnancy loss: As noted above, there is some evidence that seems to link polyps to a slightly elevated risk of pregnancy loss. This increase in risk may be small–but the outcome is so important that even a small increase is worth taking seriously.
- Early detection really helps: In general, smaller polyps are easier to remove than larger polyps. And, when you’re pregnant, larger polyps can cause more problems. That’s one reason why early detection can be especially helpful when you’re pregnant.
- It’s easier for polyps to hide when you’re pregnant: Asymptomatic polyps are a little more common when you’re pregnant. Which means that screenings are more important than ever.
Polyps are not common and generally not worrisome, but if you have any concerns at all about your cervical polyps, be sure to talk to your OBGYN or Midwife about the best way to proceed.
Get Your Polyps Checked Out
Cervical polyps are relatively uncommon, and they will often present without any noticeable symptoms. So, in most cases, you won’t even know that they’re there. For others, cervical polyps may result in vaginal discharge, spotting, or bleeding and discomfort.
Whether these polyps are removed or not is decided on a case by case basis. Most OBGYN and Midwife teams will prefer to be as conservative as possible when treating cervical polyps, but it depends on the patient as well!