Cervical Ectropion

Overview

What is cervical ectropion?

Cervical ectropion means that the cells inside your cervix are visible outside of your cervix. Cervical ectropion isn’t a concerning condition. Instead, it’s a harmless variation — or difference — in the way that cervical cells may appear.

The outer and inner parts of your cervix consist of two types of cells.

  • The outer part of your cervix has a flat, pale pink surface like the lining inside your mouth. It’s covered with squamous cells.
  • The inner part of your cervix has a textured surface with finger-like projections that look like the lining of your intestines. It’s covered with glandular cells.

Cervical ectropion occurs when parts of your cervix turn inside out so that your healthcare provider can see the glandular cells outside of your cervix — as you might see the inside of a flower bud when a flower blooms.

What's the difference between cervical ectropion and cervical erosion?

Sometimes, cervical ectropion is called cervical erosion, but this name is misleading. Cells don’t “erode” with cervical ectropion. Instead, the cervix “everts” or turns inside out so that the glandular cells that cover the inner portion of your cervix are visible from the outside.

Who does cervical ectropion affect?

Cervical ectropion is most common in people of reproductive age. Related, people who have gone through menopause rarely have cervical ectropion.

Cervical ectropion affects people whose bodies are producing high levels of estrogen. You’re more likely to have cervical ectropion during:

You’re more likely to have cervical ectropion if you’re taking estrogen-progestin contraceptives or if your cervix was torn during childbirth.

How common is cervical ectropion?

Cervical ectropion is common. Anywhere from 17% to 50% of people with cervixes likely have this harmless variation.

Symptoms and Causes

What are the symptoms?

Cervical ectropion doesn’t usually cause symptoms. Instead, your healthcare provider may notice signs of cervical ectropion during a routine pelvic exam or Pap smear. Still, since it’s a harmless condition that isn’t cause for concern, your provider likely won’t mention if you have it.

In rare instances, cervical ectropion may cause symptoms. These symptoms may be signs of cervical ectropion, but it’s more likely that they’re associated with other conditions.

  • Vaginal discharge, which may contain blood or mucus.
  • Pain and bleeding during intercourse (dyspareunia) or afterward.
  • Pain and bleeding during a pelvic exam.
  • Light bleeding (spotting) between your periods.
  • Pain in your pelvic area.

Cervical ectropion may be a harmless variation, but the conditions that most often cause these symptoms warrant a visit with your healthcare provider. Contact your provider if you notice any of these symptoms so that you can receive a correct diagnosis.

What causes cervical ectropion?

Cervical ectropion is considered a benign, or harmless, condition. Having cervical ectropion only means that the glandular cells inside your cervix are visible from the outer part of your cervix.

You may have been born with cervical ectropion. Likely, the glandular cells are visible because of your body’s exposure to estrogen. You’re more likely to have it when your estrogen levels increase. Adolescents, pregnant people and people taking contraceptives all have higher levels of estrogen. These groups are also more likely to experience cervical ectropion.

Diagnosis and Tests

How is cervical ectropion diagnosed?

Cervical ectropion often doesn't cause symptoms, so you may not know you have it unless your healthcare provider discovers it incidentally during an unrelated test or procedure. These tests may include:

  • A pelvic exam: Your provider will examine your reproductive organs to check for signs of disease.
  • A pap smear: Your provider will check for precancerous cells in your cervix.
  • Colposcopy: Your provider will use a lighted instrument called a colposcope to take a closer look at your cervix.
  • Biopsy: Your provider may take a tissue sample to check cells for irregularities that may indicate cancer.

It’s important to remember, though, that cervical ectropion isn’t an abnormal finding, and it’s not something that your provider checks for during a test or procedure. Your provider probably won’t mention that you have cervical ectropion even if you do have this variation.

Management and Treatment

How is cervical ectropion treated?

Cervical ectropion often doesn’t require treatment. In rare instances, people with cervical ectropion who are experiencing frequent vaginal discharge or spotting may benefit from medicines to provide symptom relief. Your provider may prescribe boric acid suppositories to lessen symptoms.

More intensive procedures can destroy cells that may be causing symptoms. These include:

  • Diathermy: A small tool delivers a high-heat blast to the out-of-place cervical cells, preventing them from causing unpleasant symptoms.
  • Cryotherapy: A probe delivers extreme cold that freezes the cells.

Again, however, you likely won’t need treatment for cervical ectropion. It’s much more likely that your symptoms are related to another issue that requires treatment based on the specific diagnosis.

Prevention

How can I prevent cervical ectropion?

You can’t prevent cervical ectropion, but you shouldn’t worry if you have it. It's a harmless condition that isn’t associated with or caused by more concerning conditions.

Outlook / Prognosis

What can I expect if I have cervical ectropion?

Don’t be concerned if your healthcare provider mentions that you have cervical ectropion. It’s just a common variation in the way that the cells in your cervix grow. It isn’t a sign of disease.

Living With

When should I see my healthcare provider?

You should see your provider if you experience any unusual symptoms, such as abnormal bleeding, pain during intercourse or afterward, or pain in your pelvic area that’s unrelated to menstrual cramps. These symptoms may be related to cervical ectropion. It’s more likely that your symptoms are related to a condition other than cervical ectropion that requires your provider’s care.

A note from Cleveland Clinic

Don’t be concerned if you learn that your cervical cells from the inner part of your cervix are visible from the outside. Don’t be alarmed by the word “cervical ectropion.” Think of it as a variation in how your cervical cells appear instead of a scary condition. It isn’t associated with any disease-related risks.

Last reviewed by a Cleveland Clinic medical professional on 05/20/2022.

References

  • Agah J, Sharifzadeh M, Hosseinzadeh A. Cryotherapy as a method for relieving symptoms of cervical ectopy: a randomized clinical trial. (https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC6642705/) Oman Med J. 2019;34(4):322-326. Accessed 5/20/2022.
  • Aggarwal P, Ben Amor A. Cervical ectropion. (https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/32809544/) In: StatPearls. Treasure Island (FL): StatPearls Publishing; November 17, 2020. Accessed 5/20/2022.
  • Chang AR. 'Erosion' of the uterine cervix; an anachronism. (https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/1799353/) Aust N Z J Obstet Gynaecol. 1991;31(4):358-362. Accessed 5/20/2022.
  • Wright KO, Mohammed AS, Salisu-Olatunji O, et al. Cervical ectropion and intra-uterine contraceptive device (IUCD): a five-year retrospective study of family planning clients of a tertiary health institution in Lagos Nigeria. (https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4307624/) BMC Res Notes. 2014;7:946. Published 2014 Dec 23. Accessed 5/20/2022.
  • Yildiz S, Alay I, Eren E, et al. The impact of cryotherapy for symptomatic cervical ectropion on female sexual function and quality of life. (https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/33073648/) J Obstet Gynaecol. 2021;41(5):815-820. Accessed 5/20/2022.

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