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Key facts

  • A polyp is a growth in your body.
  • Most polyps are benign, but some can lead to cancer.
  • They can grow in many different body organs.
  • Polyps are usually diagnosed by a biopsy.
  • You can prevent some polyps by eating healthy food, exercising, limiting alcohol and not smoking.

What is a polyp?

A polyp is a growth on or in an organ in your body. Most polyps are benign, which means they are not cancerous. Some are precancerous, which means that they can turn into cancer over time. Others may be malignant (cancerous), which means they can spread.

‘Pedunculated’ polyps are attached to a stalk. 'Sessile’ polyps protrude without a stalk.

What are the symptoms of polyps?

Polyps don’t always cause symptoms. Symptoms depend on the type of polyp and where they are in your body.

Ear canal polyps

These grow in your ear canal. They may indicate that you have a cholesteatoma, which can cause hearing loss, and ear discharge with a bad smell.

Cervical polyps

These grow on your cervix. They don’t usually cause symptoms. They may cause abnormal vaginal bleeding and discharge.

Colorectal polyps

These grow on the lining of your colon (colonic polyps) or rectum (rectal polyps).

Adenomatous polyps (adenomas) can turn into bowel cancer. Hyperplastic polyps generally don’t become cancerous. Hamartomatous polyps sometimes develop in people with a genetic condition.

They may cause:

Nasal polyps

These grow inside your sinuses and nose. They might get worse if you have allergies or sinusitis.

They may cause:

  • symptoms of a cold that won't go away
  • loss of smell
  • pain in your nose
  • sinus infections

Throat polyps

These grow on your vocal cords. They are benign. They can be caused by overusing your voice.

They may cause:

  • a hoarse, breathy voice
  • the sensation of a lump in your throat
  • frequent throat clearing

Endometrial (uterine) polyps

These develop in the lining of your uterus (womb). Sometimes they can become cancerous.

They may cause:

Bladder polyps

These develop in your bladder. They may cause blood in your urine and painful and frequent urination.

Gastric polyps

These grow in your stomach. There are different types, including adenomatous, hyperplastic and fundic gland polyps.

They usually don’t cause symptoms but may cause:

Gall bladder polyps

These develop in your gall bladder. Rarely, they can be cancerous. They don’t usually cause symptoms.

Skin tags

These grow on your skin and are sometimes called fibroepithelial polyps. They don’t cause any problems.

What causes polyps?

Polyps are caused by abnormal growth of cells. Often there is no obvious cause.

How will I be diagnosed with polyps?

See your doctor if you have any concerning symptoms, such as blood in your stools or urine, or unusual vaginal bleeding.

If you have a polyp, your doctor may do a biopsy.

If the polyp is difficult to reach, you might need a procedure such as a gastroscopy, colonoscopy or hysteroscopy to get the biopsy.

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What treatment will I need for polyps?

Sometimes, you will need treatment for polyps may need treatment to improve symptoms. Others may need to be removed or monitored to reduce the risk of cancer.

Treatment depends on:

  • the type of polyp
  • whether a polyp is cancerous
  • how many polyps you have
  • their size

Can polyps be prevented?

All Australians aged 50 to 74 years should do a screening test for bowel cancer every 2 years. Your doctor might suggest you have other regular screening tests for polyps, depending on your age and family history.

If you have a family history of polyps or certain genetic conditions, you may have a higher chance of getting polyps. If you're at risk, talk to your doctor about how to prevent them.

You can lower the risk of some polyps and cancers by:

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Last reviewed: July 2022

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