Cervical ectropion is an abnormality of the cervix that occurs when the surface cells of the cervical canal turn outward and migrate to cover part or all of the external surface. Treatment is usually only necessary if the cervix is irritated or infected.

Cervical ectropion, or cervical ectopy, occurs 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 but a benign condition. However, 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.

Language matters

We use “women” and “men” in this article to reflect the terms that have been historically used to gender people. But your gender identity may not align with how your body responds to this disease. Your doctor can better help you understand how your specific circumstances translate into diagnosis, symptoms, and treatment.

If you’re like most people 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.

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

Cervical changes are a 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. It’s worth getting a proper diagnosis.

Talk with a doctor if you have abnormal bleeding, including between periods, abnormal discharge, or pain during or after sex.

Cervical ectropion isn’t serious. However, these signs and symptoms could be the result of other conditions that should be ruled out or treated. Some of these are:

It’s not always possible to determine the cause of cervical ectropion.

Some people are even born with it. It can also be due to hormonal fluctuations. That’s why it’s common in females of reproductive age. This includes teenagers, pregnant people, and females who use birth control pills or patches that contain estrogen.

Sexually active adolescents are at higher risk of developing cervical ectropion. The condition is found in up to 80% of this demographic. The overall prevalence of this condition varies, but it’s estimated to affect 17% to 50% of all women.

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

Cervical ectropion is rare in postmenopausal people.

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.

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

Cervical ectropion is also known as cervical erosion, but the term is misleading in how the condition appears. The cervix is red, but the cells don’t become eroded or worn away.

The condition is usually only visible during a doctor’s examination. It can sometimes cause irregular bleeding after sex and increased discharge between menstrual cycles. Cervical erosion doesn’t always come with symptoms, however. It’s a common finding during routine pelvic exams.

It’s also important to note that cervical ectropion differs from cervical cancer, which is a serious condition that can cause changes to the cells lining the cervix.

A doctor may recommend regular Pap smears and other tests to check for signs of abnormal cell growth. If you experience any symptoms or changes in your cervical area, speak with a doctor. They can assess the situation and determine the best course of treatment.

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

The most common diagnostic tests for cervical ectropion include:

  • Pelvic exam: During a pelvic exam, a doctor will look at the cervix to see if it’s reddened or contains excess cells.
  • Pap smear: During a Pap test, a doctor takes a sample of cells from the cervix and examines them for any abnormalities.
  • Colposcopy: During a colposcopy, a doctor uses a colposcope, a special magnifying instrument, to examine the surface of the cervix to look for any signs of cervical ectropion or other abnormalities. This procedure can be done in a doctor’s office.
  • Biopsy: A biopsy is a procedure that involves taking a sample of tissue from the cervix to examine for signs of abnormal cells or disease. A biopsy can be performed at the same time as a colposcopy.

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, a doctor might want to test for an underlying condition.

Unless your symptoms are bothering you, there may not be any reason to treat cervical ectropion. Most people with the condition experience very few problems. 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 with a 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 (cryotherapy), 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. You can resume most of your regular 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. You shouldn’t use tampons for about 4 weeks. This will also help prevent infection.

A doctor will provide aftercare instructions and schedule a follow-up examination. In the meantime, tell a doctor if you have any of the following signs of infection:

  • 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 cancer

Cervical cancer is unrelated to cervical ectropion. However, it’s important to visit a doctor if you’re experiencing symptoms like cervical pain and spotting between periods.

Chlamydia

Although chlamydia is also unrelated to cervical ectropion, a 2009 study found that women under age 30 who had cervical ectropion had a higher rate of chlamydia than women without cervical ectropion.

It’s a good idea to be regularly screened for sexually transmitted infections (STIs) like chlamydia and gonorrhea since they often have no symptoms.

Cervical ectropion is considered a benign condition, not a disease. Many people aren’t even aware they have it until it’s found during a 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.

Below are some of the most common questions about cervical ectropion.

What causes cervical ectropion?

It’s not always clear what causes cervical ectropion, but it’s thought to be the result of hormone fluctuations in teenagers, pregnant people, and women who take birth control containing estrogen.

Can cervical ectropion go away without treatment?

Yes, in many cases the condition will heal on its own. However, if symptoms persist, treatment can help resolve them.

Can cervical ectropion cause infertility?

No, cervical ectropion won’t affect your ability to become pregnant or carry a baby to term.

Cervical ectropion usually is not a cause for concern and doesn’t pose any health risks unless it causes persistent symptoms.

In these cases, treatment can be easily done at a doctor’s office with a local anesthetic. This can help relieve ongoing symptoms and reduce the risk of infection or abnormal discharge.

If you experience any worrying symptoms, such as foul-smelling discharge or heavy bleeding, talk with a doctor right away. Otherwise, there’s generally no need to worry about cervical ectropion.