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What are Polyps?

By Geisha A. Legazpi
Updated Mar 03, 2024
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Polyps are outgrowths from mucous membranes, which may or may not be attached to the mucosal surface with a stalk. When a polyp has a stalk, it is called pedunculated, but when it does not have one, it is called sessile. The mucous membranes of the body are found in the linings of the nose, sinuses, stomach, colon, small intestine, uterus, cervix, and urinary bladder, thus these areas are also where these structures can grow. Symptoms of these outgrowths depend on where they occur, but usually they cause erosion of the mucous membrane, leading to bleeding or obstruction of the lumen of the involved organ. The definitive treatment for the condition is removal.

The three most common types based on the involved body parts are the colorectal, cervical, and nasal polyps. Colorectal growths occur either in the colon or rectum, or both. When they are present, a person may experience abdominal pain, cramping, constipation, and bleeding. Most of the time, they do not cause any symptoms. They are usually diagnosed through a rectal exam, barium enema, flexible sigmoidoscopy, or colonoscopy.

In a colonoscopy, a flexible tube that has a camera is inserted into the colon, and this camera then transmits images to a monitor. During a sigmoidoscopy, the flexible tube is only inserted up to the level of the lower colon and rectum. When colorectal polyps are found, they have to be removed immediately. Treatment involves removal through colonoscopy. It is particularly important to remove them as soon as they are diagnosed because they are precancerous growths.

The cervix connects the uterus and the vagina, and cervical polyps occur in this area and usually cause abnormal bleeding among women who have given birth and, either postmenopausal or premenopausal. They are not associated with sexually transmitted diseases and their cause is still unknown. Diagnosis of these growths usually happens during a pelvic exam. Unlike their colorectal counterparts, cervical growths rarely turn malignant. Treatment involves surgical removal, laser, or cauterization.

Nasal polyps occur in the sinuses and are usually associated with allergic rhinitis and sinusitis. These polyps can obstruct the nasal passages and lead to breathing difficulty, bleeding from the nose, frequent infections, and bad breath. Medical treatment involves nasal steroid spray, which reduces the inflammation and keep the polyp from growing. Surgical removal is sometimes necessary, particularly when the nasal sprays do not work and the person experiences worsening breathing difficulty.

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Discussion Comments
By anon279209 — On Jul 11, 2012

I had a full hysterectomy over five years ago. This year they found a polyp in my vagina which which they said was about 1/3 inch long. No other options were provided to me other than the doctor telling me I should have it removed in an outpatient surgery facility. He stated that if he tried to remove it in office it might take a while to get the bleeding to stop.

It appears from reading there are several options and a sample was even taken to even determine if there is a problem with it. I'm torn about even bothering to have it removed since I have not really read anything that indicates a polyp in the vagina can be cancerous.

By sweetPeas — On Aug 21, 2011

@BabaB - Polyps that grow in the uterus are the one type that I know something about. They grow out of the lining of the uterus. They are like an overgrowth of the lining of the uterus. Sometimes there are one or two, but if they fill a large part of the uterus lining,a procedure to remove them is usually done. Women who have this problem are usually pre or post menopausal. But sometimes, a young women has uterine polyps. This can cause infertility. In most cases, this kind of polyp doesn't become cancerous.

By BabaB — On Aug 20, 2011

I know that the polyps that are found in the colon are precancerous and obviously need to be removed. But what about the polyps found in sinuses, the cervix, the uterus, and bladder? Is it necessary to remove them for fear they may become cancerous?

By amysamp — On Aug 20, 2011

@Tomislav - Hey, me again -- I can actually answer that (I've been doing a ton of research on these things before my surgery!)

OK, so from what I understand, a hoarse voice can be a symptom of many things but I if it persists I would highly suggest going to an ENT or speech therapy clinic that has the capability to perform endoscopy.

Endoscopy involves a long flexible tube with a camera on the end of it to view what is occurring internally.

With laryngeal endoscopy they will look inside your voice box to see what might be happening and it is very easy to spot abnormalities from irritation from reflux to polyps or nodules on the vocal cords because the cords at their best are pearly white and symmetrical; making it usually easy to spot growths.

Also important, laryngeal endoscopy takes no time at all and with just a little spray anesthesia you cannot feel a thing as the tube goes in your nose and down the back of your throat to view your voice box.

So by getting this performed you will quickly and painlessly be able to rule out many possibilities as to what may be causing your hoarseness.

By Tomislav — On Aug 19, 2011

@amysamp - What causes vocal polyps? Was your polyp from talking all the time? My voice has been little more hoarse lately and I was wondering what was going on!

By amysamp — On Aug 19, 2011

I just found out I had a polyp on one of my vocal cords, and at that time I had actually heard of vocal cord polyps since I am a speech therapist but I was surprised to learn that there are also sinus polyps, colon polyps, and uterine polyps as I was informed by my ENT who found my vocal cord polyp.

I went to go get checked out to find out what was going on with my vocal cords when my voice became tired and people had commented that they could tell that I was straining at times to talk.

Part of me thought my voice was just tired because I had to talk all day as part of my job; but I knew better because the other speech therapists I worked with were not having the same difficulties.

I am scheduled for surgery to remove the pedunculated polyp from my vocal cords soon. I'm not too nervous as I do have to go under general anesthesia but I do not have to stay all day in the surgery center.

Now I know to be on the lookout for polyps in many places!

By honeybees — On Aug 18, 2011

My dad had surgery for colon cancer 25 years ago. He has had many follow up colonoscopy procedures since then and all of them have been cancer free.

It is not uncommon for them to find colon polyps when he has a colonoscopy though. Each time they are removed and tested, and have all been negative.

It is very important to have any polyps removed and tested because many times these polyps can turn into cancer. He has never had any symptoms from his polyps and only knows they are there when they see them on a colonoscopy.

By bagley79 — On Aug 18, 2011

My husband lost both his mom and dad to colon cancer, so it is very important that he get tested on a regular basis.

When he had his last colonoscopy done, they found a colon polyp and were able to take care of it during the procedure. This was then biopsied to see if it was malignant or not.

His test came back OK, so he is on a 3 year schedule for his next colonoscopy. This is much more frequent than someone who has no family history of colon cancer, but very important for him, given his family history.

By sunshined — On Aug 17, 2011

When I had my last female exam, I mentioned to my doctor that I was having some extra bleeding. They did an ultrasound and found out that I had some polyps in my uterus.

Once these were discovered, I had a biopsy to make sure there was no cancer. The doctor left the choice of treatment up to me after the biopsy came back normal.

Because my bleeding is very minimal, I have decided to wait and see what happens before I have any surgery to remove them.

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