Cervical ectropion (cervical erosion)

In many women, cells from inside the cervical canal, known as glandular cells, are present on the outside surface of the cervix [1]. This used to be known as cervical erosion, but the technical names that are used now are cervical ectropion or cervical eversion [2].

The area where the glandular cells meet the squamous epithelial cells, which are those found on the outer surface of the cervix, is called the transformation zone [3]. If a woman has cervical ectropion, it can be seen by the nurse when she does a cervical screening test (smear test) and the area appears red (because glandular cells are red). While many women are born with cervical ectropion, it can be caused by hormonal changes, so sometimes young women, pregnant women or women on the pill are more likely to have it [4].

Cervical ectropion is NOT linked to the development of cervical cancer or any other condition that causes cancer.

Cervical ectropion

For the majority of women, cervical ectropion does not cause any problems and it usually goes away by itself without needing any treatment.

However, as glandular cells bleed more easily and can produce more mucus than squamous epithelial cells, cervical ectropion may cause spotting, discharge, or pain during or after sex. It can also sometimes cause pain during or after cervical screening. If any of these symptoms are causing problems for you, you may wish to look into treatment options. Your GP can provide you with more help on this and refer you for treatment, if necessary.

If you chose to have treatment it is usually given at a colposcopy clinic and will be done using cautery, which is where the glandular cells are sealed off to stop them from bleeding.

The three different treatment options are listed below [2]:

  • The first method uses an electric current (known as diathermy) to cauterise the top layer of the cervix and it is done under local anaesthetic; this is the most common method used [4]
  • The second method is called cryocautery and it uses a cold spray to cauterise the glandular cells
  • The last method uses silver nitrate to cauterise the glandular cells

The last two treatment options do not require local anaesthetic. All three treatments can result in some bleeding or discharge, as well as some ‘period-like’ pain. Tampons and penetrative intercourse should be avoided until you are fully healed, usually within four weeks, to avoid the risk of infection [2] [3]. If you experience severe pain that doesn’t go away using pain killers, heavy bleeding or an unpleasant smelling discharge post treatment you should contact your GP.

If you have a question about cervical ectropion, why not use our Ask our Experts service. You can also phone the Jo's Cervical Cancer Trust freephone Helpline if you are looking for support.

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References

1. Sonnex K et al; Cambridge University Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust. Women’s Services, Colposcopy Department, 2013. Patient Information: Cervical Ectropion. Cambridge University Hospitals NHS Foundation, Cambridge, UK. www.cuh.org.uk/sites/default/files/publications/PIN1896_cervical_ectropion_v2.pdf. Accessed: 12.05.2015.

2. Liu Y et al., 2007. Microwave therapy for cervical ectropion (review). The Cochrane Collaboration, 1–35. http://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/10.1002/14651858.CD006227.pub2/pdf. Accessed: 12.05.2015.

3. Nayak S et al.; Heatherwood and Wexham Park Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust, 2013. Cervical Ectropion. Heatherwood and Wexham Park Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust; Ascot, UK. www.heatherwoodandwexham.nhs.uk/sites/default/files/i4p/l_062_1_pdf_13383.pdf. Accessed: 12.05.2015

4. UCL Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust, 2013. Women’s health information. Cervical ectropion (sometimes called cervical erosion or ectopy). University College London Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust, London, UK. 

Date last updated: 
21 May 2015
Date due for review: 
21 May 2018

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