What Are Polyps?
Polyps are abnormal growths of tissue that project from mucous membranes. They may be flat or may appear to be attached by a stalk (pedunculated). They are very common and can form on any part of the body that has mucus membranes.
Colon polyps are the most common type of polyp, but polyps also commonly form on other parts of the body such as:
- Stomach (gastric polyp)
- Ear (aural polyp)
- Throat and vocal folds (larynx)
There are several different types of polyps, and some polyps have the potential to become cancerous.
Polyps that usually do not become cancerous include:
- Inflammatory polyps
- Hamartomatous polyps
Types of polyps that are dangerous because they may become cancerous include:
- Adenomatous polyps (adenomas)
- Hyperplastic polyps
- Sessile-serrated and traditional-serrated polyps
What Are Symptoms of Polyps?
Symptoms of polyps depend on their location. Polyps often have no symptoms.
When symptoms of colon polyps occur, they may include:
When symptoms of stomach (gastric) polyps occur, they may include:
Symptoms of ear (aural) polyps may include:
- Bloody drainage from the ear
- Hearing loss
- Symptoms of nasal polyps may include:
- Stuffiness or a blocked feeling in the nose
- Feelings of pressure or fullness in the face
- Trouble smelling
Symptoms of cervical and uterine polyps may include:
- Heavy menstrual bleeding
- Bleeding after intercourse
- Bleeding after menopause
- Bleeding between periods
- Vaginal discharge with foul odor (caused by infection)
Symptoms of polyps in the throat and vocal folds (larynx) include:
What Causes Polyps?
Causes of colon polyps include:
- High-fat diet
- Diet high in red meat
- Low-fiber diet
- Family history and genetics
Causes of stomach (gastric) polyps include:
- Chronic inflammatory stomach issues
- H. pylori infection
- Pernicious anemia
- Use of proton-pump inhibitors (PPIs), such as omeprazole (Prilosec)
Causes of ear (aural) polyps include:
- Abnormal skin growth in the ear (cholesteatoma)
- Foreign object
Causes of nasal polyps include:
Causes of cervical polyps include:
- Cervical infection
- Chronic inflammation
- An abnormal response to the female hormone estrogen
- Clogged blood vessels in the cervical canal
Causes of uterine polyps include:
- Hormonal changes, such as due to perimenopause or menopause
- High blood pressure (hypertension)
- Use of tamoxifen (Soltamox, Nolvadex) to treat breast cancer
Causes of polyps in the throat and vocal folds (larynx) include:
How Are Polyps Diagnosed?
In addition to a physical examination of the affected area, different types of examinations and tests may be used to diagnose polyps, depending on where they occur in the body.
A tissue sample (biopsy) may be taken of the polyp to determine if it is cancerous.
Colon polyps are often diagnosed during screening to check for colon or rectal cancer. Tests include:
- Computerized tomography (CT) colonography (also known as virtual colonoscopy)
- Stool test
- Capsule colonoscopy
Tests used to diagnose stomach (gastric) polyps include:
- Endoscopy with biopsy
- Barium X-ray test, such as an upper GI (gastrointestinal) series
Ear (aural) polyps are diagnosed with a physical exam of the ear canal and middle ear using an otoscope or microscope.
Nasal polyps are diagnosed with:
- A physical exam of the sinuses with a special tool that has a light on it
- Computerized tomography (CT) scan
Cervical polyps are usually discovered during a routine pelvic exam and Pap smear.
Uterine polyps are diagnosed with:
Polyps in the throat and vocal folds (larynx) may be diagnosed with an endoscopy.
What Is the Treatment for Polyps?
Some types of polyps may not need treatment and may go away on their own.
Other polyps carry a risk of becoming cancerous and need to be removed. Surgical removal of polys (polypectomy) is the most common treatment for polyps that cause symptoms or that have a potential to be cancerous.
Depending on the location and type of polyp, different or additional treatments may be indicated:
- Ear (aural polyps)
- Avoiding water in the ear
- Steroid medicines
- Antibiotic ear drops
- Nasal polyps
- Nasal steroids or corticosteroid treatments
- Cervical and uterine polyps
- Gonadotropin-releasing hormone agonists
- Throat and vocal fold (larynx) polyps