Uterine polyps consist of areas in the uterus where the lining, also called the endometrium, becomes overgrown and forms a mass referred to as a polyp. Uterine polyps can range in size from as small as a pinhead to the size of a golf ball. Some women develop just one polyp, while others develop multiple polyps.
Polyps protrude into the uterus. In some cases as they grow, the polyps may slip down through the cervix into the vagina. A uterine polyp that develops near the fallopian tubes may block the opening of the tubes, potentially interfering with fertility.
Uterine polyps can develop in women before or after menopause. Although they can happen at any time, uterine polyps are most often found in women in their 40s and 50s. Many women experience no symptoms relating to their polyps. Those who do have symptoms may experience one or more of the following:
- Irregular menstrual bleeding, such as bleeding varying amounts at frequent but unpredictable intervals
- Unusually long or heavy periods
- Bleeding between menstrual periods
- Vaginal bleeding after menopause (postmenopausal women may experience only light bleeding or spotting)
- Trouble getting or staying pregnant
If your provider suspects that you may have uterine polyps, they might perform a transvaginal ultrasound. A transvaginal ultrasound uses a wand-like device placed in the vagina to emit sound waves and create an image of the uterus. The image may clearly reveal a polyp, or it may show an area of thickened endometrial tissues. Your provider may also use a procedure called hysterosonography (sonohystogram) to get a clearer view inside the uterus during the ultrasound. Hysterosonography involves the injection of saline into the uterus, which expands the uterine cavity. Your provider may also recommend an office hysteroscopy to look inside the uterine cavity to make the diagnosis.
In some cases where polyps aren’t causing any symptoms, there may be no treatment necessary. In other cases possible treatments for uterine polyps include surgical removal of the polyps and hysterectomy. Polyps can be removed using several different surgical techniques. The technique used depends on the woman and the size of the polyp. Some polyps can be removed by doing a dilation and curettage (D&C) procedure in the operating room. Using a device called a hysteroscope, your provider may be able to remove polyps, which can then be examined for any sign of cancer cells. Uterine polyps, once removed, can recur.
Most polyps are benign. Only one percent of uterine polyps are cancerous or precancerous. However, in the postmenopausal age range, about five percent of polyps can be cancerous or precancerous. If it is determined that the uterine polyps do contain cancerous cells, surgery to remove your uterus, called hysterectomy, will likely be necessary.