In This Section:
|What Are Polyps?
Polyps are fleshy fingerlike growths of tissues which are attached to normal tissue by a stem. They are almost always non-cancerous and can be found in any part of the human body. The most common sites for growth are the nasal passage of the nose, the vocal cords (larynx) and colon (colorectal polyp). The two types unique to women are uterine polyps and cervical polyps.
Cervical polyps: These grow on the cervical tissue and usually extend into the vagina.
What Are The Causes?
The cause of cervical polyps is not completely understood. They often occur after an injury to the cervix and in the healing process new tissue becomes overgrown resulting in a polyp. Sometimes increased levels of estrogen during pregnancy can stimulate overgrowth. Cervical polyps are rare in girls who have not yet started menstruating and are more common in women over 20 who have had babies. Uterine polyps tend to occur around the time of menopause and the incidence rate declines rapidly thereafter. Although the exact cause of uterine polyps is unknown, they too appear to be estrogen sensitive. Most women will have only one cervical or uterine polyp but some develop two or three.
Both uterine and cervical polyps frequently cause no symptoms. Sometimes they can cause abnormal vaginal bleeding or spotting between periods - particularly after intercourse or after menopause (when periods have ceased). They occasionally cause heavy periods (Menorrhagia) or a watery bloody discharge. This discharge can be foul smelling if the polyps become twisted and infected. If a polyp becomes large and sticks down through the vagina it can cause cramping. If it blocks the entrance to the cervix it can cause infertility in premenopausal women. Fortunately fertility is easily restored by having the polyp removed.
Cervical polyps and uterine polyps that protrude into the vagina are easily spotted during a pelvic examination. Many polyps in the uterus however cannot be visually spotted unless a hysteroscopy or dilation and curettage (D&C) is performed. These procedures can also be used to remove any polyps found. As the symptoms of both cervical and uterine polyps resemble cervical cancer, the doctor will also perform a Pap smear test or cervical biopsy to rule out cancer.
Cervical polyps are simple to treat. They can be twisted or snipped off with a forceps under local anesthesia. This procedure can be performed in a doctor's office or as an outpatient in hospital. If they recur, which is quite possible, a D&C is usually recommended. Uterine polyps usually require a D&C or hysteroscopy to remove them. As some polyps may be missed it is quite common to repeat the procedure. If polyps continue to recur and cause bothersome symptoms a hysterectomy may be recommended - in premenopausal (younger) women, a hysterectomy is mainly done for convenience. In postmenopausal women who still continue to bleed from polyps a hysterectomy is strongly recommended. This is mainly because doctors fear they could be missing some underlying cancer. While it is extremely rare for polyps themselves to turn cancerous, the bleeding they cause is hard to differentiate from bleeding of unrelated endometrial cancer.
Also called colorectal polyps, these grow in the wall of the intestines (colon) or rectum wall. They can be cancerous, precancerous or benign. Unlike other types of polyps, there is a high risk of benign colorectal polyps becoming cancerous. For this reason they should always be surgically removed. As they usually cause no symptoms, they are normally only discovered during a sigmoidoscopy - that is a procedure carried out for colorectal cancer screening. A flexible sigmoidoscope with a camera on the end is inserted into the anus and pushed into the colon. Air is pumped into the colon to widen it so that the surgeon has a better view. If polyps are found the entire large intestines is then examined via colonoscopy - this allows for both biopsy and the removal of polyps using a cutting wire. After polyps are removed a colonoscopy is repeated a year later and then at intervals. See recommended health screenings for women for a list of tests you should have performed.
These are growths that occur inside the nose and can block the sinuses or nasal airway passage. People with asthma, hay fever and cystic fibrosis are more prone to developing them. People with the condition complain of cold-like symptoms that last months or even years - including a runny nose, blocked nose, reduced sense of smell and breathing through the mouth. Medications can shrink the polyps but surgery is sometimes needed to remove them. Even after surgery, there is a high risk they will return. Nasal polyps may be detected by a simple visual inspection the nasal cavity - or imaging techniques like a CAT scan may be required. Complications that can arise from these polyps include sinus infections, sleep apnea, asthma flare ups and aneurysm leading to a stroke.
Larynx (Throat) Polyps
Laryngeal polyps (also called throat or vocal cord polyps) are growths on the larynx (voice box). In most cases it is the result of injury to the vocal cords (folds of mucous tissue in the voice box) through overuse of the voice. In the vast majority of cases, they are not cancerous. Common symptoms are a change in the voice or a hoarse voice. Additionally there may be a dry cough and difficulty swallowing. Treatment ranges from simply resting the voice to surgery to remove the polyp. Microlaryngoscopy is a special procedure to remove a polyp without making an incision.
|Related Articles on Polyps
For more general guides, see the following:
Back to Homepage: Womens Health Advice