Nasal Polyps

Dear Dr. B: What is a polyp? I have polyps in my nose and they bleed occasionally. Could they turn into cancer?

Answer: A polyp is a growth or tumor protruding from the lining of an organ such as the nose, bladder, uterus, and intestine or from any organ of the body.

Nasal polyps are growths in the mucous secreting lining of the nose or sinuses. They are grape like, fleshy and usually inflammatory in nature. Most of the nasal polyps are benign (non-cancerous), and can be on one or both sides of the nose. Unlike polyps in the colon or bladder, most polyps in the nose are not true tumors and do not suggest an increased risk of cancer. They are merely a reflection of inflammation.

Certain types of nasal polyps have a predisposition to turn into cancer. If you have polyps and if they tend to bleed then you should have your problem fully assessed by your doctor and a specialist in ear, nose and throat surgery (otolaryngologist).

Nasal polyps are more common in adults. . Men are four times as likely to have nasal polyps as women. The most common cause of polyps is allergy, followed by chronic sinus infection. They are more common in people who have asthma or inflammation of the lining of the nose (rhinitis), and cystic fibrosis.

People with nasal polyps suffer from stuffy nose and have trouble breathing. They become mouth breathers. They have a poor sense of smell and taste. Sometimes they have runny nose.

If you have chronic symptoms of rhinitis and sinusitis then your physician will refer you to an
otolaryngologist for an endoscopy. Endoscopy uses a small, flexible, lighted scope (nasopharyngoscope) to examine your nasal passages. A nasal polyp can be visualized and diagnosed with this instrument. Also biopsy can be taken to check for cancer.

You may also have a CT scan if the number and size of the polyps cannot be assessed with an endoscope. Quite often you may have polyps in the sinuses as well.

Nasal polyps are treated with corticosteroid nasal spray or corticosteroid pills. Steroids help to slowly shrink the polyps. If you continue to take the medicine, it may prevent new polyps. If your polyps are large, you may need surgery to remove them. Nasal polyps can recur. You should discuss with your doctor how to stay on maintenance therapy to prevent recurrence of nasal polyps.

A lesson in science:

In a school science class four worms were placed into four separate jars.

The first worm was put into a jar of alcohol. The second worm was put into a jar of cigarette smoke. The third worm was put into a jar of sperms. The fourth worm was put into a jar of soil.

After one day, the first worm in alcohol died. The second worm in cigarette smoke died. The third worm in sperms died. The fourth worm in soil stayed alive.

So the science teacher asked the class – “What can you learn from this experiment?”

Little Johnny quickly raised his hand and said “As long as you drink, smoke and have sex, you won’t have worms.”

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