Women with polyps

What Are Polyps?

A polyp is an abnormal growth of tissue that forms on a mucus membrane. The most common types of polyps are nasal polyps, endometrial polyps, colorectal polyps, and cervical polyps. Most polyps are benign (noncancerous), but it is possible for them to become malignant (cancerous) as they continue to grow. Most polyps are biopsied after removal to test for any cancerous cells that may be present.

Symptoms

If you have polyps, your symptoms will vary depending on which type of polyp you are affected by:

  • Nasal polyps may block your sinuses and airways, leading to symptoms that resemble the common cold.
  • Endometrial polyps form on the lining of your uterus and can cause irregular menstrual bleeding but usually will not present any symptoms at all.
  • Cervical polyps usually do not cause symptoms either, but they may cause heavy menstruation or abnormal bleeding.
  • Colorectal polyps form on your colon or rectum and can cause symptoms such as pain, obstruction, constipation, diarrhea, and blood in your stool.

Causes

Similarly to tumors, polyps form because of a mutation in the DNA of your cells. The mutation causes healthy cells to become abnormal, forcing them to grow and divide at a much faster rate than they should.

The exact cause of polyps is not yet fully understood. However, there is some evidence that people who develop polyps have different immune system responses, as well as different chemical markers in their mucous membranes when compared to people who don’t have polyps. Additionally, the development of cervical and endometrial polyps tends to be connected to high estrogen levels in women.

Treatments

The exact treatment for polyps will depend on many different factors, such as the location and size of the polyps, how many polyps are found, and whether or not the polyps are cancerous. It is possible for some polyps to not require treatment at all.

  • Nasal polyps are typically treated with medications with the goal of reducing the size of polyps and preventing future ones from occurring. Surgical removal is typically not used for nasal polyps since they are so prone to recurrence.
  • Treatment of uterine and cervical polyps might not be necessary if they are not causing any symptoms and you are not at risk for developing cancer. However, hormone medications may be prescribed or a hysteroscopy may be performed to remove a polyp for examination. Other surgical procedures to destroy polyps include using liquid nitrogen, electrocautery ablation, and laser surgery.
  • Polyps found on the colon are typically removed and screened for cancer using minimally invasive surgery.

If your polyps turn out to be cancerous, you will need to be treated for cancer. The specific treatment plan will depend on the type and location of the cancer as well as your overall health. Common treatments for cancer include surgery, chemotherapy, radiation, or sometimes a combination of all three. 

Last Updated: March 07, 2016