Polyps (PAH-lips) are growths of tissue that project from the mucous membranes * . These growths normally are benign (be-NINE), which means they are not a threat to someone's health, but in some cases they can develop into cancerous tumors. Medical professionals do not completely understand the cause of polyps.

What Are Polyps?

Polyps are abnormal tissue growths attached to one of the body's mucous membranes. They may be attached to the membrane by a stalk, or they may lie flat along the surface of the membrane. Three of the most common types are colorectal, cervical, and nasal polyps.

Three-dimensional illustration of a polyp in the colon.

Three-dimensional illustration of a polyp in the colon.
Colorectal polyps

Colorectal polyps grow in the colon * or rectum * , which are both parts of the large intestine. The early discovery of polyps is important because between 75 and 90 percent of colorectal cancers develop from polyps. People who have colorectal polyps may notice unusual cramping, stomach pain, or bleeding when they have a bowel movement, or they may not experience any symptoms at all. Doctors usually check for polyps in people who have these symptoms. Doctors may also check for polyps in people whose relatives have been diagnosed with colorectal polyps, because polyps sometimes run in families. Most colorectal polyps develop in people who are more than 50 years old.

Polyps may start off as benign growths, but over a period of years, they can transform into invasive cancer. Medical professionals can find and remove polyps before they become cancerous and thus prevent most colorectal cancer. For this reason, medical professionals recommend that people of a certain age or with a certain family history of colorectal cancer be screened for polyps. The most common procedure for diagnosing colorectal polyps is colonoscopy (ko-lin-OS-ko-pee), an examination of the rectum and the entire colon. The doctor inserts a flexible lighted instrument into the colon that transmits images of the inside of the colon to a monitor. If this procedure reveals any polyps, a doctor orders their removal to prevent the development of cancer. In the past, doctors sometimes ordered another procedure called a sigmoidoscopy (sig-moyd-OSko-pee), instead of a colonoscopy. The sigmoidoscope, however, only examines the rectum and lower colon and does not reach the upper part of the colon where many cancerous polyps occur.

Cervical polyps

Cervical polyps develop in the cervix, which is the lower part of the uterus * . The discovery of cervical polyps is important because, while most are benign, some may be cancerous and a sign of cervical cancer.

The most common symptom of cervical polyps is abnormal bleeding from the vagina * . Cervical polyps are relatively common and are usually found during a woman's annual pelvic examination, when the doctor checks the uterus, cervix, and vagina for any abnormalities. Most cervical polyps are benign * , and medical professionals can remove them easily. Only rarely do cervical polyps develop into cancer.

Nasal polyps

Nasal polyps develop in the sinuses, the cavities in the skull that are located near the top of the nose and under the eyes. People who develop nasal polyps usually have a history of allergies, hay fever, sinus infections, asthma * , ataxia * (motor dysfunction), or cystic fibrosis * . Nasal polyps can cause problems with breathing, so medical professionals will either remove them or treat them with medications that the person inhales. Nasal polyps rarely become cancerous.

See also Allergies • Cervical Cancer • Colorectal Cancer • Cystic Fibrosis


Books and Articles

Farrell, Frank. “Colon Polyps & Colon Cancer Are Preventable.” Total Health Magazine. http://www.totalhealthmagazine.com/Digestion/Colon-Polyps-Colon-Cancer-Are-Preventable.html (accessed November 12, 2015).

Gallagher, James. “Pioneering Surgery ‘Saves Bowels’ When Removing Polyps.” BBC News. March 16, 2015. http://www.bbc.com/news/health-31869052 (accessed August 12, 2015).


American College of Gastroenterology. “Colon Polyps.” http://patients.gi.org/topics/colon-polyps (accessed November 11, 2015).

Harvard Health Guide. “Cervical Polyps.” Drugs.com . http://www.drugs.com/health-guide/cervical-polyps.html (accessed August 12, 2015).

MedlinePlus. “Colorectal Polyps.” U.S. National Library of Medicine, National Institutes of Health. https://www.nlm.nih.gov/medlineplus/ency/article/000266.htm (accessed August 12, 2015).

Merck Manual: Consumer Version. “Nasal Polyps.” http://www.merckmanuals.com/home/ear-nose-and-throat-disorders/nose-and-sinus-disorders/nasal-polyps (accessed August 12, 2015).

National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases. “Colon Polyps.” U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. (accessed August 12, 2015).


American Academy of Allergy, Asthma & Immunology. 555 E. Wells St., Suite 1100, Milwaukee, WI 53202-3823. Telephone: 414-272-6071. Website: http://www.aaaai.org/home.aspx (accessed August 12, 2015).

American College of Gastroenterology. 6400 Goldsboro Rd., Suite 200, Bethesda, MD 20817. Telephone: 301-263-9000. Website: http://gi.org (accessed August 12, 2015).

American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists. PO Box 96920, Washington, DC 20090. Telephone: 202-638-5577. Website: http://www.acog.org (accessed November 15, 2015).

The American Society of Colon and Rectal Surgeons. 85 West Algonquin Rd., Suite 550, Arlington Heights, IL 60005. Telephone: 847-290-9184. Website: https://www.fascrs.org (accessed November 11, 2015).

National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases. 9000 Rockville Pike, Bethesda, MD 20892. Telephone: 301-496-3583. Website: (accessed November 11, 2015).

* mucous membranes are the thin layers of tissue found inside the nose, ears, cervix (SER-viks) and uterus, stomach, colon and rectum, on the vocal cords, and in other parts of the body.

* colon (KO-lin), also called the large intestine, is a muscular tube through which food passes as it is digested, just before it moves into the rectum and out of the body through the anus.

* rectum is the final portion of the large intestine, connecting the colon to the outside opening of the anus.

* uterus (YOO-teh-rus) is the muscular, pear-shaped internal organ in a woman where a baby develops until birth.

* vagina (vah-JY-nah) is the canal, or passageway, in a woman that leads from the uterus to the outside of the body.

* benign (be-NINE) refers to a condition that is not cancerous or serious and will probably improve, go away, or not get worse.

* asthma (AZ-mah) is a condition in which the airways of the lungs repeatedly become narrowed and inflamed, causing breathing difficulty.

* ataxia is a disorder involving an unsteady gait.

* cystic fibrosis (SIS-tik fy-BRO-sis) is a disease that causes the body to produce thick mucus that clogs passages in many of the body's organs, including the lungs.

Disclaimer:   This information is not a tool for self-diagnosis or a substitute for professional care.

(MLA 8th Edition)