Cervical ectropion, or cervical ectopy, is when the soft cells (glandular cells) that line the inside of the cervical canal spread to the outer surface of your cervix. The outside of your cervix normally has hard cells (epithelial cells).

Where the two types of cells meet is called the transformation zone. The cervix is the “neck” of your uterus, where your uterus connects to your vagina.

This condition is sometimes referred to as cervical erosion. That name is not only unsettling, but also misleading. You can rest assured that your cervix isn’t really eroding.

Cervical ectropion is fairly common among women of childbearing age. It’s not cancerous and doesn’t affect fertility. In fact, it’s not a disease. Even so, it can cause problems for some women.

Read on to learn more about this condition, how it’s diagnosed, and why it doesn’t always require treatment.

If you’re like most women with cervical ectropion, you won’t have any symptoms at all. Oddly enough, you may not be aware you have it until you visit your gynecologist and have a pelvic examination.

If you do have symptoms, they’re likely to include:

Pain and bleeding can also happen during or after a pelvic exam.

For some women, these symptoms are severe. The discharge becomes a nuisance, and the pain interferes with sexual enjoyment.

Cervical ectropion is the most common cause of bleeding during the last months of pregnancy.

The reason for these symptoms is that glandular cells are more delicate than epithelial cells. They produce more mucus and tend to bleed easily.

If you have mild symptoms such as these, you shouldn’t assume that you have cervical ectropion, though. It’s worth getting a proper diagnosis.

See your doctor if you have bleeding between periods, abnormal discharge, or pain during or after sex. Cervical ectropion isn’t serious, but these signs and symptoms could be the result of other conditions that should be ruled out or treated.

Some of these are:

  • infection
  • fibroids or polyps
  • endometriosis
  • problems with your IUD
  • problems with your pregnancy
  • cervical, uterine, or other type of cancer

Check out our guide to vaginal discharge: What’s normal and when should you call your doctor? »

It’s not always possible to determine the cause of cervical ectropion. Some women are even born with it. It can also be due to hormonal fluctuations. That’s why it’s common in women of reproductive age. This includes teenagers, pregnant women, and women who use birth control pills or patches that contain estrogen.

If you develop cervical ectropion while taking estrogen-containing contraceptives, and symptoms are a problem, ask your doctor if it’s necessary to switch your birth control.

Cervical ectropion is rare in postmenopausal women.

There’s no link between cervical ectropion and the development of cervical or other cancers. It isn’t known to lead to serious complications or other diseases.

Cervical ectropion is likely to be discovered during a routine pelvic examination and Pap test. The condition is actually visible during a pelvic exam because your cervix will appear bright red and rougher than normal. And it might bleed a little during the exam.

Although there’s no connection between them, early cervical cancer looks a lot like cervical ectropion. The Pap test can help rule out cervical cancer.

If you’re not having symptoms, and your Pap test results are normal, you probably don’t need further testing.

If you’re having difficult symptoms, such as pain during sex or heavy discharge, your doctor might want to test for an underlying condition.

The next step may be a procedure called colposcopy, which can be done in a doctor’s office. It involves powerful lighting and a special magnifying instrument to get a closer look at your cervix.

During the same procedure, a small tissue sample can be collected (biopsy) to test for cancerous cells.

Unless your symptoms are bothering you, there may not be any reason to treat cervical ectropion. Most women experience few problems, and the condition can go away on its own.

If you do have ongoing, troublesome symptoms — such as mucus discharge, bleeding, or pain during or after sex — talk to your doctor about your treatment options.

The main treatment is cauterization of the area, which can help prevent abnormal discharge and bleeding. This can be accomplished using heat (diathermy), cold (cryosurgery), or silver nitrate.

Each of these procedures can be performed under local anesthetic in a doctor’s office in a matter of minutes. You’ll be able to leave as soon as it’s over, and you can resume most of your normal activities right away. You might have some mild discomfort similar to a period for a few hours to a few days. You may also have some discharge or spotting for a few weeks.

After the procedure, your cervix will need time to heal. You’ll be advised to avoid intercourse and use of tampons for about four weeks. This will also help prevent infection.

Your doctor will provide aftercare instructions and schedule a follow-up examination. In the meantime, tell your doctor if you have:

  • foul-smelling discharge
  • bleeding that’s heavier than a period
  • bleeding that lasts longer than expected

This could indicate an infection or other serious problem requiring treatment.

Cauterization usually resolves these symptoms. If symptoms subside, treatment will be considered successful. It’s possible that symptoms will return, but the treatment can be repeated.

Cervical ectropion is considered a benign condition, not a disease. Many women aren’t even aware they have it until it’s found on routine examination.

It’s not usually associated with serious health concerns. If you’re pregnant, it won’t harm your baby. It can be reassuring to get this diagnosis because bleeding in pregnancy can be alarming.

It doesn’t necessarily require treatment unless discharge becomes a problem or it interferes with your sexual enjoyment. If you do have symptoms that won’t resolve on their own, treatment is fast, safe, and effective.

There are generally no long-term health concerns.