What are bladder polyps?

A polyp is a growth that forms on a mucous membrane or other surface inside your body. Polyps can develop in many different organs, including your bladder.

Bladder polyps are growths in the lining of your bladder. Your bladder is the hollow organ in your pelvis that stores urine. Polyps can be either benign or cancerous.

What causes bladder polyps?

Polyps form when cells begin to grow abnormally. Often the cause of this growth isn’t known.

Sometimes the cells in a polyp can grow quickly and spread to other organs. These types of polyps are cancerous.

Bladder cancer may be caused by:

  • Tobacco smoke. About half of all bladder cancer cases are caused by smoking.
  • Exposure to radiation or to toxic chemicals, which may happen at work.
  • Irritation of the bladder lining, such as from an infection.

Fibroepithelial polyps are rare, noncancerous polyps that form in the ureters and top of the bladder. Sometimes children are born with this type of polyp. In other cases, these polyps are caused by infections, irritation of the bladder, or injury.

Rarely, polyps can form from collagen that is injected into the bladder to treat stress incontinence.

Do bladder polyps cause symptoms?

Bladder polyps often don’t cause symptoms. If you do have symptoms, they can include:

  • pain when you urinate
  • blood in the urine
  • more frequent urination
  • an urgent need to urinate
  • pain in your side

These symptoms may be signs of bladder cancer. They may also be due to another condition, such as a urinary tract infection or benign prostate growth.

What are the risk factors?

You’re more likely to get bladder polyps if you:

  • Are male. Men are at greater risk for bladder polyps and bladder cancer than are women.
  • Smoke. Cigarettes, cigars, and pipes contain toxic chemicals that can build up in your urine and damage your bladder lining.
  • Are over 40. The risk of bladder cancer also increases with age.
  • Are exposed to cancer-causing substances at work. Some of the chemicals used to manufacture dyes, leather, rubber, textiles, and paints have been linked to an increased bladder cancer risk.
  • Often get infections. Repeated infections can irritate your bladder and increase your risk for polyps and bladder cancer.

Additional risk factors for bladder cancer include people who:

  • Have had a catheter in their bladder for a long period of time.
  • Have bladder stones.
  • Had chemotherapy or radiation in the past. The chemotherapy drug cyclophosphamide (Cytoxan) and radiation to the pelvis are linked to an increased risk for bladder cancer.
  • Have a family history. You’re more likely to develop bladder cancer if your parent, sibling, or other close relative has had the disease.
  • Have human papillomavirus (HPV). Some studies suggest that there may be a link between HPV and risk for bladder cancer.

How are bladder polyps diagnosed?

To diagnose bladder polyps, you can see a specialist called a urologist. Your doctor will first ask about your symptoms, as well as your personal and family history of polyps and bladder cancer.

Tests that are used to diagnose bladder polyps and cancer include:

  • Urine culture. The doctor checks a sample of your urine for bacteria that cause infections. Find out how to collect a clean catch urine sample.
  • Urine cytology. A urine sample is tested to look for cancer cells.
  • Urine tumor marker tests. These tests look for substances in your urine that bladder cancer cells release.
  • Cystoscopy. The doctor places a thin scope with a light and camera on one end into your bladder. This test can show any growths in the lining of your bladder.

The doctor can check a polyp for cancer by removing a small piece of tissue from it during a cystoscopy and sending it to a lab to be examined under a microscope. This test is called a biopsy.

How are bladder polyps treated?

If a bladder polyp is noncancerous and not causing any symptoms, no treatment is necessary.

If a bladder polyp is cancerous, or it’s large enough to cause symptoms or affect your bladder function, your doctor will remove it.

One way to remove polyps is with a type of surgery called transurethral bladder resection (TURBT). The doctor first puts a cystoscope through your urethra into your bladder. Then, the surgeon uses a laser, a wire loop, or electricity to remove the growth.

If the polyp is cancerous and the cancer has spread, your doctor may do a radical cystectomy. This procedure removes your whole bladder, along with nearby organs like the:

  • prostate (in men)
  • urethra
  • uterus and ovaries (in women)

What’s the outlook?

Your outlook depends on whether the polyp is cancerous. Once a noncancerous polyp is removed, you should no longer have symptoms.

Bladder cancer survival rates depend on the stage of the cancer. Stage is determined by the size of the tumor and whether it has spread to other organs. Survival rates for early-stage bladder cancers are higher than for late-stage cancer. Your urologist will tell you what to expect from your cancer stage.

Q&A: Bladder polyps and bladder cancer risk

Q:

Does having benign bladder polyps increase my future risk for bladder cancer?

A:

The answer to this question is unclear in the current research. Some benign tumors may carry a higher risk of developing into cancerous tumors, much like different types of colon polyps carry different risks. The best way to decrease your risk for developing cancer is by eliminating risk factors such as smoking or exposure to harmful chemicals.

Alana Biggers, MDAnswers represent the opinions of our medical experts. All content is strictly informational and should not be considered medical advice.