What are polyps?

Polyps are abnormal growths of tissue. They are small and can be shaped like a raised bump or a stalk with a stem. Polyps latch onto the walls, or lining, of your organs. The colon is the most common place to get a polyp. You can get polyps in other places, too, though, including the:

  • nose
  • ear
  • throat
  • stomach
  • cervix (women)
  • uterus (women)

Most polyps are not dangerous, but some can become cancerous tumors.

Symptoms of polyps

Most people who have polyps do not have symptoms. Contact your doctor if you have bleeding from your rectum. This can be a sign of colon polyps. Women may have yellow discharge or irregular bleeding from their vaginas. These can be signs of cervical or uterine polyps or cancer.

What causes polyps?

There is no one specific reason you get a polyp. Abnormal growths of body cells and tissue cause them to form.

People with rare, inherited disorders have a greater chance of getting colon polyps. These include:

  • Juvenile polyposis
  • Familial adenomatous polyposis (FAP)
  • Gardner syndrome
  • Lynch syndrome
  • Peutz-Jeghers syndrome

How are polyps diagnosed?

If a polyp is in your ear or nose, you may see or feel it. Colon polyps often are diagnosed during a colorectal screening. Cervical and uterine polyps may be diagnosed during a pap smear or colposcopy. If your doctor finds a polyp anywhere, he or she will likely do a biopsy. This consists of removing a sample of abnormal tissue. They will send it to a lab to check the cells and look for cancer.

Can polyps be prevented or avoided?

Polyps cannot be prevented. As you age, your risk of getting a colon polyp increases. You can help find colon polyps early by getting routine colorectal screenings. Finding the polyps early can help prevent colon cancer. The American Academy of Family Physicians (AAFP) recommends routine colorectal screening for all adults between the ages of 50 and 75.

Polyps treatment

If you are healthy, your doctor likely will recommend removing the polyps. This helps to prevent cancer from developing or spreading. The type of procedure will depend on the location, size, and type (cancerous or not) of the polyps. Treatment is performed in an outpatient center. You may have to fast from food and drink. Your doctor will sedate you with medicine to reduce pain and help you relax. Someone else will need to drive you home after the procedure.

Colon polyps are removed during a colonoscopy. The doctor inserts a thin, flexible tube through your rectum into your colon, or large intestine. This tube is called a colonoscope. The doctor then feeds a small tool through the tube to remove the polyps. A sigmoidoscopy is another type of procedure used to remove polyps. In some cases, the doctor may need to do a colectomy. This procedure removes part of the colon. It may be done if the polyps are large and/or cancerous.

Cervical and uterine polyps can be removed. The doctor will insert a speculum into your vagina to open it up and see your cervix better. They may use a tool to twist off a small polyp. Larger polyps may be removed using an electric device to burn them off. This is known as electrocautery.

Stomach or throat polyps are removed during an EGD (esophagogastroduodenoscopy). The doctor inserts a thin, flexible tube through your throat and esophagus. This tube is called an endoscope. The doctor then feeds a small tool through the tube to remove the polyps.

Nose or throat polyps are removed during a laryngoscopy. The doctor inserts a thin, flexible tube through your mouth. This tube is called a laryngoscope. The doctor then feeds a small tool through the tube to remove the polyps.

Ear polyps are easier to remove because they are visible. The doctor removes the polyps using a small tool.

You may have some side effects from treatment. These include minor bleeding or pain, as well as drowsiness from medicine used during the procedure. Risks include infection or holes or tears in your organs.

Living with polyps

Treatment provides a good outlook. If you do not get your polyps removed, they can continue to grow. They may develop into cancer. If you’ve had polyps before, you are at greater risk of getting more. Talk to your doctor about routine screenings to check for future polyps.

Questions to ask your doctor

  • Are there special instructions I need to follow before polyps treatment?
  • What are the risks of treatment?
  • How long after treatment can I return to my normal routine?
  • If I have had polyps before, what are my chances of getting more in the future?
  • If other members of my family have polyps, am I more likely to get them?
  • Do polyps ever go away on their own?