A polyp is an abnormal growth of tissue, typically benign and with a stalk, protruding from a mucous membrane. Polyps can vary in size, shape and location, they may be single or multiple. Some polyps are flat and some look like a grape with a narrow stalk, or they may take the form of many fine projections, resembling the pile of a carpet.
Polyps are typically associated with mucous membranes and can occur in various parts of the body, including the colon, nose, sinuses, stomach, bladder, uterus, cervix and small intestine. Polyps of the colon and rectum grow from the lining of the colon.
It is not understood why polyps develop in the nose, but some researchers believe it may be due to an allergy to something in the atmosphere.
As with nasal polyps, it is not fully understood why polyps of the colon and rectum develop. However, there is a tendency for polyps to be hereditary. A rare, inherited disorder called Familial Adenomatous Polyposis (FAP) – in which hundreds of polyps develop in the colon and rectum – is a major cause of colon cancer, if left untreated.
Nasal polyps can hinder breathing or they can swell so much that they can be seen hanging from the nostril.
Rectal polyps usually have no symptoms and are often found by chance. Larger polyps tend to bleed quite easily; the blood (occult blood) can be mixed with the stools or can be visible on their surface. Clear mucus may be passed with the stool. On rare occasions the bowel may become partially or completely blocked, resulting in symptoms such as constipation, diarrhea, abdominal pain, bloating and (in severe cases) vomiting.
Polyps are diagnosed either by an X-ray procedure called a barium enema or by examining the entire colon carefully using a colonoscope. During a colonoscopy the doctor will usually take a small piece of the polyp for examination.
Polyps of the nose can be easily removed and shouldn't cause and long term problems.
Once discovered, it is advisable to be checked again a year later to make sure that no more polyps have developed.
The majority of polyps are benign but there is also a strong link between polyps and the development of colon (bowel) cancer. There are different types of polyp, but those associated with bowel cancer are known as adenomatous polyps or just adenomas. Although the majority of polyps will not become cancerous, it is still very important that they are removed.
Since there is no way of knowing whether a polyp will become malignant, total removal of the polyp is the best treatment. If polyps are detected during a colonoscopy, they can usually be removed painlessly using the colonoscope. A wire loop is placed around the polyp and then a electrical current is passed through the wire, to separate the polyp from the bowel. If the polyp is very large it may require more than one treatment for complete removal. If the polyp cannot be removed with these methods then surgery may be required.
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