Is a Polyp a Tumor?

Reviewed on 2/24/2022

What Is a Polyp?

Illustration of a colon polyp inside the intestine
Polyps are a type of benign (noncancerous) tumor. Polyps that can become cancerous include adenomatous polyps (adenomas), hyperplastic polyps, and sessile-serrated and traditional-serrated polyps.

Polyps are a type of benign (noncancerous) tumor consisting of abnormal growth of tissue that projects from mucous membranes. They may be flat or may appear to be attached by a stalk (pedunculated). 

Polyps 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 they can also form on other body parts, such as the stomach, ears, nose/sinuses, cervix, uterus, and throat and larynx. 

There are a few different types of polyps, some of which have the potential to become cancerous. 

Types of polyps that may become cancerous include:  

  • Adenomatous polyps (adenomas)
  • Hyperplastic polyps
  • Sessile-serrated and traditional-serrated polyps

It is believed to take about 10 years for an adenoma (precancerous polyp) to turn into cancer.

Because it takes such a long time for a polyp to become cancerous, colorectal cancer can often be prevented if precancerous polyps (such as adenomas) are detected and removed before they become cancerous (malignant).

What Are Symptoms of Polyps?

Symptoms of polyps depend on their location. Polyps often have no symptoms. 

  • Colon polyp symptoms may include:
  • Stomach (gastric) polyp symptoms may include:
  • Ear (aural) polyp symptoms may include:
    • Bloody drainage from the ear 
    • Hearing loss 
    • Nasal polyp symptoms may include:
    • Feelings of fullness or pressure in the face
    • Stuffy nose
    • Problems with sense of smell
  • Cervical and uterine polyp symptoms may include:
  • Throat and vocal folds (larynx) polyp symptoms may include:
    • Rough, scratchy, or harsh-sounding voice
    • Feeling as if a lump is stuck in the throat
    • Hoarseness
    • Breathiness
    • Shooting pain from ear to ear
    • Neck pain
    • Decreased ability to change vocal pitch
    • Voice and body tiredness


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How Are Polyps Diagnosed?

Polyps are diagnosed with physical examination of the affected area, and different types of tests may be used depending on where the polyps are located in the body. 

A tissue sample (biopsy) may be taken of a polyp to determine if it is cancerous. 

Polyps do show up on ultrasound, though it is not usually the primary screening method for polyps. 

Colon polyps are often diagnosed during screening to check for colon or rectal cancer. Tests include: 

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 polyps (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: 

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Reviewed on 2/24/2022