Cervical ectropion is a condition in which cells inside the cervix develop outside it and form a red, inflamed patch.
Cervical ectropion, or cervical erosion, is not usually a health concern. However, because of the way it looks, some people might worry that it is an early stage of cervical cancer.
For this reason, it is essential to understand the difference between the two conditions.
This article explores the causes, symptoms, and treatments for cervical ectropion, and whether it has links to cervical cancer.
Cervical ectropion is a common gynecological condition that has no links to cervical cancer or cancer-causing health problems.
The outside of the cervix, or the vaginal portion, and the inside, or cervical canal, contain different cells. Typically, the inside of the cervix contains soft glandular cells, or columnar epithelium cells. Doctors refer to the hard cells on the outside of the cervix as squamous epithelial cells.
Cervical ectropion occurs when glandular cells develop on the outside of the cervix.
Doctors call the area on the outside of the cervix where glandular cells come into contact with squamous epithelial cells the transformation zone.
Many individuals with cervical ectropion do not experience symptoms.
However, the primary symptom of cervical ectropion is a red, inflamed patch at the neck of the cervix.
The transformation zone appears this way because the glandular cells are delicate and irritate easily.
Other symptoms a woman may experience include:
- pain and bleeding during or after sex
- pain during or after cervical screening
- light discharge of mucus
- spotting between periods
Symptoms may range from mild to severe when they appear.
It is important to note that cervical ectropion is not the only cause of these symptoms. If a woman starts to experience them, they should speak with a doctor to rule out more serious causes.
Some women are born with cervical ectropion. The following factors might also contribute:
- Hormonal changes: Cervical ectropion may occur due to fluctuations in hormone levels. It is most common in people who are of reproductive age. Individuals who have already had menopause rarely get cervical ectropion.
- Taking the contraceptive pill: Taking birth control pills affects hormone levels and may cause cervical ectropion.
- Pregnancy: Being pregnant may also cause cervical ectropion due to the changes in hormone levels.
- Age: Younger people who are going through puberty have a higher risk of cervical ectropion.
The red, inflamed appearance of the cervix in those with cervical ectropion might resemble the early signs of cervical cancer. However, one does not cause the other.
Cervical ectropion is also not an early symptom of cervical cancer.
However, if someone experiences spotting or cervical pain, a doctor can perform a pelvic examination or recommend a Pap test to rule out cervical cancer.
Most people with cervical ectropion are not aware they have it. A doctor usually diagnoses it during a routine pelvic examination.
The doctor will need to rule out cervical cancer if a person's cervix looks redder or more inflamed than usual. They may carry out the following tests:
- Pap test: This involves scraping a small sample of cells from the cervix to test for human papillomavirus (HPV) and cancerous or precancerous cell changes.
- Colposcopy: This is when a healthcare professional examines the cervix more closely with bright lighting and a magnifying instrument.
- Biopsy: This is when a doctor takes a small tissue sample, and a lab technician tests it for cancerous cells. A person may experience cramping during the procedure.
Cervical ectropion is not a harmful condition and does not usually require treatment.
A 2014 review suggested cervical ectropion does not require treatment unless the person experiences persistent bleeding.
If someone experiences symptoms, such as pain or bleeding, a doctor may recommend cauterization. This is a painless method of removing the glandular cells on the outside of the cervix.
While cauterization usually resolves the symptoms of cervical ectropion, a doctor may need to repeat the procedure if symptoms return.
There are three different versions of cauterization therapy:
- Diathermy: This uses heat to cauterize the affected area.
- Cryotherapy: This uses extremely cold carbon dioxide to freeze the affected area. A 2019 study published in Medical Principles and Practice found this to be a safe and effective treatment for people with cervical ectropion who were experiencing a lot of discharge.
- Silver nitrate: This is another way to cauterize the glandular cells.
After the treatment, the doctor may recommend that the individual avoids some sexual activity and using tampons for up to 4 weeks. After this time, the cervix should have healed.
Anyone who experiences any of the following after treatment should return to the doctor:
- discharge with a bad odor
- bleeding that is heavier than an average period
- ongoing bleeding
These symptoms may indicate an infection or another underlying condition, so people should not ignore them.
Cervical ectropion is not a harmful condition and does not usually lead to any medical complications. It has no links to cancer and is not harmful to the embryo or the woman if she is pregnant.
The condition typically resolves on its own without treatment, and many people may not even know they have it. If symptoms become painful or uncomfortable, cauterization is usually an effective treatment.
Anyone who has concerns about cervical pain, bleeding during or after sex, or unusual discharge, should consider talking to a doctor.