Polyps are abnormal growths of tissue that protrude from mucous membranes. They can be found anywhere in the body where there are mucous membranes, but polyps are most commonly found in the colon, nose and reproductive system. The basic cause of polyps is genetic. In the body, healthy cells grow, divide and then stop dividing in an orderly manner. A polyp forms when the cells keep dividing after new cells are no longer needed.
Generally speaking, however, with the exception of this broad genetic cause, researchers have not been able to establish the exact causes of polyps. What scientists have been able to do is identify certain risk factors that are associated with the development of polyps. The most common risk factors that might contribute to the causes of polyps are age, family history, diet, weight and lifestyle choices, as well as hormonal imbalances and a history of inflammation.
Colon polyps are growths of cells that form on the lining of the large intestine. The causes of polyps developing in the colon are not known, but it is possible for anyone to develop them. A family history of colon polyps and being older than age 50 are known to increase the chances of having this type of polyp form. Eating a diet high in fat and low in fiber, as well as being overweight and not exercising, might also be risk factors for developing these polyps. Most of the time, colon polyps are benign, but it is possible for them to become cancerous over a long period.
Uterine polyps are overgrowths of cells that form in the lining of the uterus and extend into the womb. There are no known causes of polyps of the uterus. Researchers, however, have noted that they seem to be affected by hormone levels and might grow just like the lining of the uterus does during the menstrual cycle in response to increasing levels of circulating estrogen. Obesity, high blood pressure and being older than age 40 also are possible contributing causes of polyps of this type. Polyps can form on the cervix as well and appear to be caused possibly by increased levels of estrogen and chronic inflammation of the cervix.
Finally, it is possible for polyps to form in the nose or sinuses. Again, the cause is not known, but some are thought to be the result of swelling in either the nose or sinus from an infection. The vocal cords also are subject to developing polyps. Vocal polyps are almost always benign an usually are caused by vocal abuse.