A polyp is an abnormal mass of tissue that has developed inside a mucous membrane within the body. Polyps have the potential for malignancy, and therefore should be removed. The procedure for removal of polyps is a polypectomy.
Polyps are most commonly found in the colon, stomach, uterus, urinary bladder, and nasal cavities, but can occur in any mucous membrane. They are generally asymptomatic, and may go undetected until a diagnostic exam, such as a colonoscopy, is performed. Once identified, it is usually recommended that the polyps are removed. Even if they are non-cancerous when found, they have the potential to become cancerous if left in place.
A polypectomy is the surgical removal of a polyp. The procedure may be performed through an open abdominal surgery or via endoscopy. During an endoscopic procedure, such as a colonoscopy, the polyp may be excised with forceps inserted through the endoscope. Larger polyps may be removed with a snare along the base, cauterizing the area after removal to prevent bleeding.
Before an endoscopic procedure, a patient may be advised to temporarily discontinue taking certain medications. Anti-inflammatory drugs, such as aspirin, as well as any blood-thinners like Coumadin® may need to be discontinued for up to one week prior to the procedure. This may be done because these drugs can inhibit clot formation after polypectomy.
Potential complications of a polypectomy include bleeding and perforation. Perforation is the inadvertent puncturing of the tissue, creating a hole. Bleeding can usually be controlled with cauterization, but perforation requires surgical correction. There is also the potential for an adverse reaction to sedatives or anesthesia if they were administered prior to the exam.
After polyps are removed via polypectomy, they are sent for analysis. A lab will test the tissue for cancerous or precancerous cells. Patients should receive notification from their physician regarding the results from the lab. If the polyp is determined to be malignant, the patient will likely be scheduled for follow-up diagnostic examinations on a regular basis.
Since polyps are generally asymptomatic, it is important to know some of the common risk factors that contribute to forming polyps. Colon polyps are more prevalent in people over 50 years of age, those with a family history of polyps, smokers, those with a sedentary lifestyle, and those who are overweight. Nasal polyps may be more likely to form in those with asthma, aspirin sensitivity, allergies to fungi, and those with cystic fibrosis. Risk factors for cervical polyps are not clearly understood.