A polyp is an abnormal growth of tissue that forms within the body. Polyps can appear in any organ that has blood vessels, but they’re most often found in the:
Most polyps are benign, or noncancerous. However, since polyps are caused by abnormal cell growth, they can eventually become cancerous. There may be one polyp or multiple polyps present.
Polyps usually don’t cause symptoms, so they often go undetected until a doctor discovers them during an unrelated medical test or routine physical exam. If your doctor discovers a polyp in your body, they’ll likely perform a biopsy. During a polyp biopsy, a sample of tissue is removed and analyzed under a microscope.
Polyps can develop in people of all ages. However, they tend to be more common in adults over age 50, especially those who smoke and are overweight. People who abuse alcohol and who have a diet high in fat are also at an increased risk for polyps.
Your doctor may want to perform a polyp biopsy to determine whether the growth is cancerous or noncancerous. During the procedure, a sample of tissue is removed for analysis.
The specific type of procedure used to obtain a sample will depend on where the polyp or polyps are located, as well as their size and number. The different procedures include:
- colonoscopy for polyps located in the large bowel
- colposcopy for polyps located in the vagina or cervix
- esophagogastroduodenoscopy (EGD) for polyps located in the gastrointestinal tract
- laryngoscopy for polyps located in the nose, throat, or vocal cords
If the polyp is located in an area that’s easy to reach, a small piece of tissue is simply removed and biopsied.
The necessary preparations for a polyp biopsy will vary depending on the type of procedure being performed. In general, no special preparation is necessary when the polyp is located in the nose or another open, easily accessible area of the body. However, you’ll need to prepare for a biopsy if the polyp is located in an organ inside of your body, such as the colon or uterus. Your doctor will give you specific instructions before the test, which may include fasting or following a special liquid diet for one to three days before the procedure. It’s important to follow your doctor’s instructions exactly.
It’s also vital to tell your doctor about any prescription drugs, over-the-counter medications, and supplements you’re taking. You should notify them about any allergies as well.
Since you’ll be sedated during the biopsy, it’s also a good idea to arrange for a ride home afterward. The effects of the sedative can take a while to wear off, making it unsafe for you to drive yourself.
The risks of a polyp biopsy rarely occur. However, there are a few risks associated with the procedure. These include:
- an infection
- excessive bleeding
- damage to a nerve located near the polyp
- puncturing the organ where the polyp is located
- an adverse reaction to the type of anesthesia used
A polyp biopsy is typically performed at a doctor’s office or a hospital. Your doctor or another healthcare provider will perform the procedure. They’ll give you an anesthetic so that you don’t feel any pain during the biopsy. Depending on the type of procedure being performed, you’ll be given either a general or a local anesthetic. A general anesthetic will put you to sleep throughout the procedure, and a local anesthetic will numb the area where you’re having the procedure. How the procedure is done depends on the location of the polyp.
When the polyp is located in the colon, or large intestine, a colonoscopy is performed. This involves the following steps:
- During a colonoscopy, you’ll lie on your side on a padded examination table. Your doctor may ask you to keep your knees close to your chest so they can get a better angle to reach your colon.
- They’ll then gently insert an instrument called a colonoscope through your anus and into your colon. A colonoscope is long, flexible tube with a small video camera attached at the end. This allows your doctor to see the inside of the entire colon.
- Once the colonoscope is positioned, your doctor will inflate your colon using carbon dioxide gas to get a better view of the organ.
- They’ll then remove a tissue sample of the polyp.
A colposcopy is performed when the polyp is located in the cervix, vagina, or vulva. This involves the following steps:
- During a colposcopy, you’ll be asked to lie on your back on an examination table with your feet in stirrups.
- Your doctor will then position a device called a colposcope a few inches away from your vulva.
- A colposcope is a large, electric microscope with a bright light that allows your doctor to see your cervix clearly. The colposcope doesn’t touch you.
- Your doctor will then place a tool called a speculum into your vagina. The speculum holds the walls of your vagina open so that your doctor can see your cervix more easily.
- They’ll swab your cervix and vagina with a cotton ball containing a solution of vinegar. This will clear away mucus and make the polyp more visible.
- Your doctor will use a sharp biopsy instrument to remove a sample of tissue from the growth.
An esophagogastroduodenoscopy (EGD) is performed when the polyp is located in the gastrointestinal (GI) tract. The GI tract consists of the esophagus, stomach, and duodenum. The esophagus is the muscular tube that connects the throat to the stomach and duodenum, which is the upper part of the small intestine.
During an EGD, you’ll be asked to lie on your side on an examination table. Your doctor will then slowly insert an instrument called an endoscope into your esophagus and through your stomach and duodenum. An endoscope is a long, flexible tube with a camera, which allows your doctor to examine your organs easily. Once your doctor locates the polyp, they’ll take a small sample of tissue using forceps attached to the endoscope.
A direct laryngoscopy is performed when the polyp is located in the nose, throat, or larynx. The larynx is your voice box, which contains your vocal chords. It’s located at the top of the your windpipe, or trachea.
During a direct laryngoscopy, you’ll lie on your back on an examination table. Your doctor will insert a special tube called a laryngoscope into your mouth and down your throat. This allows your doctor to get a close view of the larynx and throat. They will then use the laryngoscope to collect the tissue sample from the polyp.
After any biopsy procedure, the tissue sample will be examined with a microscope to identify any abnormalities in your cells.
It’s normal to feel some discomfort after a biopsy, but you should recover within one to two days. Call your doctor immediately if you’re having dizziness and bleeding or pain in the area where the tissue sample was removed. These symptoms may indicate that something is wrong.
After your biopsy, your doctor will usually call you to schedule a follow-up appointment so they can discuss the results with you. In some cases, they’ll give you the results on the phone.
Normal results mean that no abnormal cells were found and that the polyp is benign. Abnormal results mean that the polyp is cancerous. If this is the case, your doctor will determine the best course of treatment and explain the next steps.