What are polyps?
Polyps are tissue growths that most often look like small, flat bumps or tiny mushroom-like stalks. Most polyps are small and less than half an inch wide.
Uterine and colon polyps are the most common, but it’s also possible to develop polyps in places that include the:
Most polyps are benign, meaning they’re noncancerous. But because they are due to abnormal cell growth, they can eventually become malignant, or cancerous.
Your doctor can help determine if the growth is a polyp by performing a biopsy. This involves taking a small sample of tissue and testing it for the presence of cancerous cells.
Treatment for polyps depends on:
- their location
- whether they’re benign or malignant
Each type of polyp can cause unique symptoms based on location. Below are some common polyp types, their locations, and symptoms.
|Type of polyps||Location||Symptoms|
|colorectal (colon)||large intestine, colon, and rectum||blood in stool, abdominal pain, constipation, diarrhea|
|endometrial (uterine)||uterus, usually uterine lining||infertility, irregular menstrual bleeding, vaginal bleeding|
|cervical||cervix, where the uterus connects to the vagina||typically no symptoms, but can include bleeding during menstruation (heavier) or sex, or an unusual discharge|
|gastric (stomach)||stomach and stomach lining||nausea, pain, tenderness, vomiting, bleeding|
|nasal||nose or near sinuses||similar to the common cold such as headache, nose pain, loss of smell|
|aural||ear canal||loss of hearing and blood drainage from the ear|
|vocal cord (throat)||vocal cords||hoarse and breathy voice that develops over a few days to several weeks|
|bladder||bladder lining||blood in urine, painful urination, frequent urination|
|gallbladder||gallbladder lining||pain in the right abdomen, bloating, nausea, difficulty eating|
Most colon polyps are noncancerous and do not often cause symptoms until they are in their later stages. But like gastric polyps, they
The causes of polyps can vary based on their location.
Some known causes include:
- a foreign object
- a cyst
- a tumor
- mutation in the genes of colon cells
- genetics (genetic predisposition/genetic syndrome and family history)
- chronic stomach inflammation
- excess estrogen
Some polyps happen for particular reasons, but sometimes the cause is unclear.
Here are some of the reasons specific polyps may occur.
Endometrial polyps develop in the uterus. They happen when parts of the endometrial glands grow too large and protrude from the lining of the endometrium. Doctors do not know exactly why this happens, but high estrogen levels appear to be a factor.
Doctors don’t know exactly what causes cervical polyps, but possible reasons
- congestion of blood vessels in the cervix, which disrupts blood flow and causes polyps to develop
- infection or chronic inflammation of the cervix
- using chemicals that irritate the cervix over a long time
- high estrogen levels
Causes of throat polyps
- an injury from shouting loudly
- damage due to gastroesophageal reflux
- intense breathing activities
- exposure to chemical substances
Nasal polyps are
Polyps grow through rapidly dividing cells, which is similar to how cancer cells grow. This is why they can become cancerous, even though most polyps are benign.
People who regularly stress their vocal cords or have acid reflux have a higher risk of throat polyps. But there are no known risk factors for aural polyps.
Men and people who smoke have a higher risk of bladder polyps. Bladder polyps are rare, and there is little evidence to show why they happen. However, the bladder has nicotine receptors, which means there is a
Talk with your doctor about your individual risk of polyps if you are concerned about a specific type.
Risks for colon polyps
Risk factors for colon polyps
- having specific genetic features
- having a hereditary condition, such as familial adenomatous polyposis or Lynch syndrome
- eating a high fat, low fiber diet
- being older, as
30 percentof cases in the United States affect people over 50 years old
- being male
- having a family history of colon polyps and cancer
- using tobacco and alcohol
- having an intestinal inflammation disorder like inflammatory bowel disease (IBD)
Black people have a higher occurrence of polyps than white people at a younger age, according to research published in 2015. The study authors called for screening to begin at age 45 for Black Americans rather than the current guideline of 50 years.
Black Americans also have a higher rate of and a
More research is needed to find out why this is so, but socioeconomic factors are likely to play a role. Since some polyps can become cancerous, earlier screening could help reduce this risk.
Risks for stomach polyps
The risk of stomach polyps increases with the following:
- older age
- chronic inflammation or irritation of the tissue where polyps form
- bacterial stomach infections
- familial adenomatous polyposis (FAP), a rare genetic syndrome
regular useof proton pump inhibitors like Nexium, Prilosec, and Protonix
Risks for uterine polyps
- are over 60 years old
- have high estrogen levels
- have passed menopause
- have symptoms, such as bleeding
- have polycystic ovarian syndrome
- have a history of using tamoxifen as a long-term therapy
Risks for cervical polyps
- have not yet reached menopause
- have been pregnant at least once, or multigravidaria
- have a sexually transmitted infection
- have already had cervical polyps in the past
Risks for nasal polyps
Nasal polyps are more likely to develop in people who experience the following conditions:
- ongoing sinus infections
- cystic fibrosis
- sensitivity to aspirin
Risks for vocal cord polys
You may be
- stress your vocal cords, for example, by using your voice loudly
- have sulcus vocalis, which is a groove on the side of the vocal cord
- have exposure to certain chemical substances
- have gastric reflux
- have a family history of gallbladder polyps
- have Peutz-Jeghers or Gardner syndrome
- have hepatitis B
- inflammation due to repeated episodes of cholecystitis or acute biliary colic
People who have high levels of cholesterol or bile salts in their bile can develop structures that resemble polyps but are actually clumps of cholesterol that form on the gallbladder wall. They may appear before or alongside gallstones.
Sometimes called cholesterol or pseudo polyps, these account for
Risks for bladder polyps
You may have a higher risk of bladder polyps if you are male and smoke tobacco.
Your doctor will perform a physical exam and ask questions about your symptoms and medical history.
If your doctor suspects polyps, they will typically use imaging tests like X-rays, ultrasound, or a CT scan to see the affected area, which can help confirm a polyp’s presence and size.
The exact process will depend on the location of the polyps. Procedures to obtain a sample include:
- an esophagogastroduodenoscopy or endoscopy for the small bowel and stomach
- biopsy of areas that are easy to reach for taking a sample to analyze under a microscope
- a colonoscopy for polyps throughout the colon
- holding a mirror in the back of your mouth to check your vocal cords
- a nasal endoscopy to evaluate polyps in the nasal cavity
In some cases, your doctor may want to perform a biopsy to find out if it is cancerous.
The treatment for polyps varies widely, depending on the type of polyps and where they are. In most cases, a doctor will remove them.
Some polyps won’t require treatment because they are unlikely to be harmful. Throat polyps typically go away on their own with rest and voice therapy. A doctor will sometimes remove polyps surgically as a precaution against the future development of cancer.
Treatment for polyps depends on a number of factors, including:
- whether the polyps are likely to be cancerous
- the number of polyps
- where they are
- their size
In the case of colorectal polyps, a doctor will remove the polyps during a colonoscopy, because they cannot tell by looking if the polyps will be cancerous.
A colonoscopy is when your doctor uses a thin tube with a camera attached to look at the inside of your rectum and large intestine. Doctors recommend routine screening colonoscopies, as they can help find and remove polyps before cancer can develop.
Your doctor may prescribe progestin and gonadotropin-releasing hormone agonists for hormone-related polyps, like cervical and uterine polyps. These drugs will tell your body to create more hormones to shrink or reduce the polyps.
Nasal steroids or corticosteroid treatments may help treat nasal polyps.
Your doctor will use the least invasive treatment before opting for surgical interventions.
It’s not always possible to prevent polyps, but knowing and avoiding some risk factors may help prevent some types of polyps.
Knowing about some risk factors may help reduce the chance of developing some types, such as colon polyps, which could minimize your risk of colorectal cancer.
Preventive steps include:
- asking your doctor about a routine screening colonoscopy
- eating a nutrient-dense diet that includes plenty of fresh fruits, vegetables, and whole grain cereals
- limiting your consumption of alcohol
- avoiding tobacco use
- exercising regularly to maintain a moderate body weight
Talk with your doctor about additional steps you can take to prevent polyps, especially if you have a family history of polyps.
Noncancerous polyps and polyps with no symptoms usually don’t require any intervention, unless they interfere with your daily activities. Your doctor may recommend “watchful waiting” by monitoring the polyps to ensure they don’t develop further. They’ll also be able to tell you when or if you should have surgery to remove the polyps.
If you’re concerned about polyps, you can:
- Find out more about your family history of polyps and discuss them with your doctor.
- Keep updated medical records of any previous tests and imaging studies regarding your diagnosis.
- Follow up with your doctor if you’ve had the polyps removed to make sure you’re clear.
- Be aware of the symptoms of polyps and seek treatment when they appear.
Colon polyps will need increased surveillance, such as more frequent screening colonoscopies. Talk with your doctor about how often you should be screened. The screening frequency depends on:
- the type of polyps
- how many there are
- family history
Your doctor will discuss the outlook for your particular diagnosis. The outlook for diagnosis of polyps depends on
- the type of polyps
- whether they’re cancerous
- your overall health
Most benign polyps are unlikely to cause problems in the future, but your doctor may suggest removing them as a precaution.
Benign polyps can sometimes develop into cancerous ones or interfere with your life by causing discomfort or other symptoms. A person with uterine polyps may have a higher chance of fertility problems, and nasal polyps can lead to persistent stuffiness.
Colon polyps can indicate a higher chance of having colorectal cancer.
If you have a colon polyp measuring 1 centimeter that develops for no specific reason, there is an
Polyps can affect different parts of the body, including the colon, the uterus, the nose, and the ears. Most polyps are harmless, but some can become cancerous over time.
If you notice polyps developing or have concerns about symptoms such as bleeding from the rectum or the vagina, it is best to seek medical advice.