Uterine polyps are non-cancerous tumours that develop in the cervix or in the lining of the uterus. They occur due to the over-growth of the endometrial lining and are most common in women who are experiencing the menopause or who are post-menopausal but can occur at any age. In many cases, they are small and don’t cause problems so a woman may be unaware she has polyps. A gynaecological check up may be necessary if she experiences pain, discomfort after sex, irregularity of her cycle or the inability to conceive after 12 months of unprotected intercourse (six months for women over 36).
Symptoms that could suggest polyps are:
Very small polyps may not cause any discomfort but could still cause abnormal vaginal bleeding. A woman can have only one polyp or lots of them. While they are usually small, polyps can grow large or prevent a fertilised egg from attaching itself to the uterus. This is one cause of infertility in women who are still of childbearing age.
Aside from the menopause, there are other risk factors that increase a woman’s chance of developing polyps. These are obesity, having high blood pressure and a history of breast cancer or Tamoxofen usage (an anti-cancer drug).
Polyps can be diagnosed using a simple and painless transvaginal ultrasound where a probe is placed into the vagina to allow an internal ultrasound scan. This enables the doctor to see the pelvic organs more clearly. It can also be diagnosed via a procedure called a hysteroscopy. This involves placing a small telescope called a resectoscope into the uterus via the vagina and passing an electric current through a wire loop at the end of the resectoscope. The current cuts the polyps free from the lining of the uterus and they can then be removed. The operation is done using a light general anaesthetic to ensure the woman does not feel pain during the procedure.
Very rarely, a polyp has some precancerous cells in it. Pre-cancers that can present as uterine polyps are endometrial carcinomas and endometrial hyperplasia. If this is the case, she will require further treatment. Women at special risk of developing uterine cancer (for example, women who have had it before) or for whom the doctor suspects cancer will be offered a biopsy of the tissue to rule it out and provide reassurance.
In the majority of women (70%) polyps will not return after surgery and – if prior to menopause – her menstrual cycle remains regular. In the remainder, the polyps may grow back or they may experience a recurrence of heavy vaginal bleeding. If this happens, a second operation or alternative treatment plan could be necessary. At Conception, Birth and Beyond, the patient is always fully involved in decision-making and every aspect of their care.