Medically Reviewed by Jennifer Robinson, MD on September 15, 2021
What’s a Polyp?
It’s a small clump of cells that grows inside your body. There are 2 common types: The first hangs from a stalk. Doctors will call this pedunculated. The second is flat and grows directly out of the tissue around it. You’ll hear it called sessile. Some polyps are benign and can’t turn into cancer. Others can. The odds depend on their location, cause, and how long they’ve been there.
They’re more common than you might think -- almost half of us will get them. There are 2 main types:
Hyperplastic polyps are small, grow near the end of the colon, and don’t turn into cancer.
Adenomatous polyps affect more people. If they’re large, they’re more likely to become cancer, but it usually takes years. Most remain noncancerous.
Colon Polyps: Diagnosis and Treatment
During a colonoscopy, your doctor uses a tool to put a small camera into your anus so they can look at your colon. If they see polyps, they’ll remove them. They’ll also send a piece to a lab to look at with a microscope. This process, called a biopsy, is how they’ll know if it’s cancerous. You’re less likely to get cancer if your doctor finds and removes polyps early. They can help you decide when to do it, but most people should get a colonoscopy to look for polyps at 50.
These grape-like clusters grow in your middle ear or ear canal. They’re often red and bleed easily when touched. They can sometimes be cancerous. It may be hard at first for your doctor to tell if they grew on their own or if were caused by an infection or some other condition.
Aural Polyps: Diagnosis and Treatment
If your doctor thinks the polyps result from an infection, they may prescribe antibiotics to get rid of them. If that doesn’t work, they might cut out a small piece to look at under a microscope to see if they’re cancerous. If they don’t go away, you’ll likely need surgery to get rid of them.
Most are noncancerous. They pop up inside your nasal passages or sinuses when the lining is inflamed and swollen for a long time. They can weaken your sense of taste or smell, and cause a runny nose, headache, and snoring. Often they grow big enough to cause infections or make it hard to breathe.
Nasal Polyps: Diagnosis and Treatment
Your doctor may suspect you have polyps because of your symptoms. They can look up your nose with a tool called a nasal endoscope to see for sure. Drugs that you swallow or spray into your nose may help get rid of them. Antibiotics may help if you have an infection. If they don’t work, your doctor can use an endoscope to remove the polyps. But if you have severe polyps, you might need more involved surgery.
Also known as endometrial polyps, these grow in the lining of your uterus. Some are attached with a thin stalk (they’re called pedunculated). Others grow from a broad base (they’re called sessile). They are roundish in shape and can be as small as a sesame seed or as large as a golf ball. They’re usually noncancerous, but they can change your monthly period or make it hard to get pregnant.
Uterine Polyps: Diagnosis and Treatment
Along with an exam, monthly cycle details -- how long, how frequent, how much blood, spotting between periods -- can help your doctor decide if you have polyps. They may look at your uterus or remove a piece of it to test. You might not need treatment if you have no symptoms. But if polyps cause heavy bleeding, pregnancy problems, or come after menopause, they’ll want them gone. Drugs can ease symptoms, but only surgery can get rid of polyps.
Vocal Cord Polyp
It’s a noncancerous growth or lesion on your vocal cord cover. It usually grows on just one side of the vocal cord. Your voice may be hoarse, lower than normal, or break in the middle of a sentence. It might take more effort or force to speak or sing.
Vocal Cord Polyp: Diagnosis and Treatment
Your doctor will want to know the full history of your voice problems. They may put a tube through your mouth to look at your vocal cords. They’ll check for acid reflux, allergies, and hormone problems. They can all make your voice problems worse. Voice rest and special vocal exercises may be all you need to get better. This depends in part on how you use your voice. A professional singer may need surgery.
Also called gastric polyps, they form on the lining of your stomach. Most don't become cancerous, but some types mean you’re more likely to get the disease in the future. They often don't cause any symptoms. Your doctor usually finds them when they examine you for some other reason.
Stomach Polyps: Diagnosis and Treatment
If your doctor suspects polyps, they’ll look into your stomach with a tool called an endoscope. If they see a type called adenoma, which can become cancer, they may remove it or take a piece to look at. They could test it for H. pylori bacteria, which are linked to stomach polyps, and prescribe antibiotics if you have them. For small polyps that aren’t adenomas, they might just watch them to see what happens. They’ll probably remove large polyps.
IMAGES PROVIDED BY:
UpToDate: “Endometrial polyps,” “Patient education: Colon polyps (Beyond the Basics).”
American Cancer Society: “Understanding Your Pathology Report: Colon Polyps (Sessile or Traditional Serrated Adenomas).”
American Society of Clinical Oncology: “Colorectal Cancer: Diagnosis.”
University of Iowa Stead Family Children’s Hospital: “Aural polyps.”
Ear Surgery Information Center: “Cholesteatoma,” “Serous Otitis Media -- Fluid in the Middle Ear,” “Tumors of the Middle Ear & Mastoid.”
Mayo Clinic: “Nasal polyps: Diagnosis,” “Stomach polyps: Definition,” Stomach polyps: Treatment and drugs.”