Facts you should know about polyps

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Facts you should know about polyps

Each of us has heard of polyps and very likely some of you have had them.  These abnormal tissue growths are basically a small clump of cells – most are less than half an inch wide – that can grow rapidly in several different areas of the body with the most common area being the colon.

The good news is most polyps are benign or noncancerous.  However, because they arise from abnormal cell growth, they could eventually with time become malignant or cancerous.  The chances of a polyp becoming cancerous depend on their location, cause, and how long they’ve been there. The best way for a doctor to help determine if a growth is a polyp is to perform a biopsy.  Biopsies are where a small sample of tissue is removed and tested for the presence of cancerous cells.

There are two types of polyps– One is a called a pedunculated polyp meaning it hangs down from a stalk.  The second type of polyp is called sessile and is flat growing directly out of the tissue around it.

Causes of polyps

It is not always easy to determine a cause of a polyp.  Sometimes polyps may be caused by an injury or damage to an area of the body.  Other causes could be inflammation, a foreign object, a cyst, a tumor, mutation in the genes of colon cells, chronic stomach inflammation, or excess estrogen.

Examples of different types of polyps

·      Colon Polyps

Almost half of all people will develop polyps in their colon making them one of the most common types found.  Colon polyps can fall into two types:

·      Hyperplastic polyps are a small polyp that grows near the end of the colon and are considered benign.

·      Adenomatous polyps are more common than hyperplastic polyps.  This type of polyp will remain noncancerous, however if they are large, they are more likely to become cancerous after many years.

A colonoscopy is the main way to find and diagnosis a polyp in the colon.  A person will be sedated in an outpatient setting and a doctor will use a tool to put a small camera into the anus to look inside the colon.  If any polyps are found, they are immediately removed and will be sent to a lab to be inspected for cancerous cells. 

·      Aural Polyps

This polyp is found in the middle ear or ear canal and grows in a grape-like cluster.  They look red and if touched, can bleed easily.  They can be either benign or cancerous and could be caused by an infection or some other condition.  If a doctor believes they are due to an infection, a person will be place on an antibiotic to treat.  If the medication does not work, then a biopsy may be done in which a small piece of the polyp will be looked at under a microscope.  If the polyps do not go away, it is highly recommended to remove them by surgery. 

·      Nasal Polyps

This type of polyp can be found in a person’s nasal passages or sinuses if the lining becomes inflames or swollen for a long time.  They generally are noncancerous but they can reduce a person’s sense of smell or taste along with causing a runny nose, headache, and snoring.  Sometimes they may grow large enough to cause an infection or make it hard to breathe.

To treat nasal polyps, a doctor may prescribe medication to spray into the nose to get rid of them.  If a person has an infection and a nasal polyp, then an antibiotic will be prescribed.  Nasal polyps that do not go away can be removed using an endoscope.

·      Uterine Polyps

Some women can develop a polyp growing in the lining of her uterus, also known as an endometrial polyp.  They are usually roundish in shape with some as tiny as a sesame seed while others as large as a golf ball.  Most are noncancerous but they can affect a woman’s menstrual cycle and create difficulty in getting pregnant.

Any woman who is experiencing common symptoms of a uterine polyp should discuss this possibility with her doctor.  Common symptoms can include irregular menstrual bleeding such as frequent, unpredictable periods of variable length and heaviness.  Other signs can be bleeding between menstrual periods, spotting before periods or vaginal bleeding after menopause. 

If a uterine polyp is found, a doctor will remove a small piece to be tested.  If the polyp is noncancerous and is not causing symptoms, there may be no need for treatment. But if polyps are causing symptoms, then surgery is the best option for getting rid of them.

·      Vocal Cord Polyps

Polyps found on the vocal cords can change the way a person’s voice sounds.  Symptoms can include hoarseness, breathiness, a “rough” or “scratchy voice, harshness, shooting pain from ear to ear, a “lump in the throat” sensation,  a lower than normal voice, or neck pain. 

Vocal cord polyps are benign but can develop if a person uses their voice in the wrong way causing the vocal folds to swell.  Over time the swollen spots can get harder like a callous.  Eventually, these nodules can get larger and stiffer if a person continues to use their voice in the wrong way. 

Usually treatment is voice rest and working with a speech pathologist who can demonstrate special vocal exercises to heal the vocal cords.

·      Stomach polyps

These polyps are also known as gastric polyps which can form on the lining of the stomach.  Most of them do not become cancerous but having certain types of stomach polyps can indicate a higher likelihood of stomach cancer in the future.  Stomach polyps usually do not cause symptoms and are typically found if a person is being examined for some other reason.

If a polyp is found in the stomach, a piece of it will be removed to be examined.  H. pylori bacteria are often linked to stomach polyps and if that is the cause, then an antibiotic will be prescribed for it.  Small polyps may be watched for any changes while a large polyp will likely be removed.  H.H