Polyps are abnormal growths of tissue that can be found in any organ that has blood vessels. They are most often found in the colon, nose, or uterus.
Most polyps are noncancerous (benign). However, because polyps are due to abnormal cell growth, they can eventually become cancerous (malignant). Whether or not a polyp is cancerous can be determined with a biopsy.
Treatment for polyps depends on their location, size, and whether or not they are cancerous.
When a polyp grows in the outside of your ear canal, it is called an aural polyp. Inflammation, a foreign object, a cyst, or a tumor can cause an aural polyp. Symptoms include loss of hearing and bloody drainage from the ear.
Polyps that grow on the part of the uterus that connects to the vagina are called cervical polyps. These polyps are common in women after they reach the age of 20 and have had children. Symptoms include abnormal bleeding and heavy menstruation, but they often do not cause symptoms. Most cervical polyps are noncancerous.
Most colonic polyps are noncancerous, but colorectal cancer generally develops from a benign polyp. Your risk of developing polyps in the colon increases with age. You are more likely to have them if you have a family history of colonic polyps or cancer, or have a high-fat, low-fiber diet.
Symptoms can include blood in your stool, pain, obstruction, constipation, and diarrhea. Colonoscopy screenings are recommended because polyps of the colon often have no symptoms. Early stage polyps can be removed during a colonoscopy.
Nasal polyps can be found near the sinuses. If they become large enough, they can block the sinuses and nasal airway. You are more likely to develop nasal polyps if you have chronic sinus infections, allergies, asthma, or cystic fibrosis. Symptoms feel like a common cold that persists.
Stomach polyps, which are also known as gastric polyps, occur on the lining of your stomach. Gastric polyps are rare. Symptoms can include pain or tenderness, nausea, vomiting, and bleeding; in most cases, there are no symptoms. Most stomach polyps are noncancerous, but some types may eventually develop into stomach cancer. A biopsy is generally ordered.
Most uterine polyps are noncancerous. Women of any age can develop uterine polyps, but they are more common after age 40. They can also occur after menopause. Symptoms can include irregular menstrual bleeding, but often there are no symptoms.
When you have a polyp, your doctor may want to perform a biopsy to find out if it is cancerous or noncancerous. In a biopsy, a sample of tissue is removed and analyzed under a microscope.
Depending on where the polyp or polyps are located, various procedures are used to obtain a sample. These include:
- colonoscopy for polyps located in the large bowel
- colposcopy for polyps located in the vagina or cervix
- esophagogastroduodenoscopy or endoscopy for the small bowel, stomach
If the polyp is located in an area that is easy to reach, a small piece of tissue is simply removed and biopsied.
Treatment for polyps depends on a number of factors, including:
- whether or not the polyps are cancerous
- how many polyps are found
- where they are located
- their size
Some polyps will not require treatment. Others may be removed as a precaution against the future development of cancer.