Polyps are mostly benign, abnormal tissue growths that often take on the form of a mushroom or a small bump. In most cases, polyps are harmless, but occasionally they become cancerous in which case treatment is absolutely necessary. Polyps can appear in any organ with blood vessels, but are often found in the colon, nose, stomach and uterus. Risk factors and treatment options depend on their location.
Also known as bowel polyps, these are found on the lining of the colon. They affect 15 to 20% of the UK population. In many cases, there are no symptoms for colon polyps. Although, in their benign state, they are harmless, sometimes they can turn into colon cancer which, if discovered in its later stages, can be deadly. Due to the lack of symptoms of colon polyps, regular screening is essential. Sometimes symptoms can manifest as constipation, diarrhoea, abdominal pain, or blood in stool.
Those most at risk of developing colon polyps are over the age of 50, obese, eat a high-fat diet, smoke, drink alcohol, and do not exercise enough.
Nasal polyps may occur as a result of another health condition, such as allergies, some immune disorders, or chronic inflammation because of asthma. Sensitivity to certain drugs may also bring about nasal polyps. If they are small, nasal polyps generally do not have any symptoms. However, larger growths may cause blocked nose, problems breathing, nasal infections, headaches, and a lost sense of smell.
Risk factors include frequent sinus infections, allergies (such as hay fever), and cystic fibrosis.
Polyps in the stomach are also referred to as gastric polyps. Some forms of stomach polyps can become malignant and increase chances of developing stomach cancer. Signs to watch out for are nausea, anaemia, blood in stool, pain, and even vomiting.
Stomach polyps are most common in people in their middle age and beyond. Certain bacterial stomach infections, and ongoing use of proton pump inhibitors, also increase the risk of developing stomach polyps.
These grow on the inner lining of the uterus, as a result of accelerated cell growth. Also known as uterine polyps, endometrial polyps are often non-cancerous, however occasionally they may be malignant or become malignant in the future. Any number of symptoms may occur, including vaginal bleeding, irregular menstrual bleeding, or infertility.
Women who have had children and are over 40 years-old are more likely to develop endometrial polyps. Obesity and high blood pressure can also play a part.
Treatment for polyps
Treatment of polyps varies depending on the type of polyps and where it is. Sometimes no treatment is required, especially if the polyps is small and shows no signs of being or becoming cancerous. Non-benign polyps will be removed.
Some benign polyps may also be removed surgically as a precaution, even if they show no signs of malignancy. There are also a number of non-surgical treatments for polyps, specific to each type.
If you think you might be at risk of developing polyps, or already have them, you should seek advice from a specialist, who will inform you on what options are available to you.