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A womb polyp is a growth inside the uterus. A polyp can be from a fraction of an inch (a few millimeters) in size to an inch (2.54 cm) or more. Most uterine polyps are not cancerous, but some cancers begin as polyps. A womb polyp might disappear by itself, but some need to be removed or treated with medication. A womb polyp can affect the normal menstrual cycle and can even be a cause of infertility.
The uterine lining is made up of cells called endometrial cells. This lining is sloughed off during menstruation. A womb polyp is made up of endometrial cells and grows from this lining, but it does not fall off during a period. A polyp grows into the uterus as a round or oval shape and is attached to the lining by a thin stalk or by a thicker base.
Polyps are most common in women aged 40-60, but younger women can also have polyps. Women who take the breast cancer drug tamoxifen, those who are obese or those who have high blood pressure are more likely to develop womb polyps. The cause of polyps is not known, but they appear to be influenced by hormone levels.
A woman might have a womb polyp and show no symptoms. Most of the symptoms of a uterine polyp relate to unusual vaginal bleeding, but infertility is another symptom. If a woman menstruates unusually heavily, has an irregular menstruation cycle, bleeds between periods or bleeds after the menopause, she might have a womb polyp.
An unusually heavy period or infertility might also indicate the presence of a uterine fibroid. Uterine polyps are different from uterine fibroids, because a fibroid is an overgrowth of the muscle of the uterus and not of the endometrial lining. Uterine fibroids might also have other symptoms, such as pelvic pain, bowel problems or bladder problems.
Uterine polyps are diagnosed either through an ultrasound procedure or through internal inspection of the womb using a telescopic instrument called a hysteroscope, which is inserted vaginally. A doctor might also perform curettage, which is a scraping of the uterine wall, either to collect samples or to remove the polyp. The scrapings can be tested to see whether the polyp was precancerous.
Another temporary treatment for uterine polyps is medication to shrink the polyp. Medication does not cure polyps and cannot prevent the return of the condition. If the curettage samples indicate cancer, the womb might have to be removed. This procedure is known as a hysterectomy. Sometimes, if a doctor thinks a polyp is not cancerous and is harmless, he or she might tell the patient to simply wait, because polyps sometimes regress spontaneously.