Biopsy - polyps
A polyp biopsy is a test that takes a sample of, or removes polyps (abnormal growths) for examination.
How the test is performed
Polyps are growths of tissue that may be attached by a stalk-like structure (a pedicle). Polyps are commonly found in organs with many blood vessels. Such organs include the uterus, colon, and nose.
Some polyps are cancerous (malignant) and the cancer cells are likely to spread. Most polyps are noncancerous (benign). The most common site of polyps that are treated is the colon.
How a polyp biopsy is taken depends on the location:
- Colonoscopy or flexible sigmoidoscopy explores the large bowel
- Colposcopy-directed biopsy examines the vagina and cervix
- Esophagogastroduodenoscopy (EGD) or other endoscopy is used for the throat, stomach, and small bowel
- Laryngoscopy is used for the nose and throat
For areas of the body that can be seen or where the polyp can be felt, a numbing medication is applied to the skin. Then a small piece of the tissue that appears to be abnormal is removed. This tissue is sent to a laboratory. There, it is tested to see if it is cancerous.
How to prepare for the test
If the biopsy is in the nose or another surface that is open or can be seen, no special preparation is needed. Your health care provider will tell you if you need to not eat or drink anything (fast) before the biopsy.
More preparation is needed for biopsies inside the body. For example, if you have a biopsy of the stomach, you should not eat anything for several hours before the procedure.
Follow your health care provider's instructions exactly. This ensures that the procedure goes smoothly.
How the test will feel
For polyps on the skin surface, you may feel tugging while the biopsy is being taken. After the numbing medicine wears off, the area may be sore for a few days.
Biopsies of polyps inside the body are done during procedures (for example, EGD or colonoscopy). Usually you will not feel anything during or after the biopsy.
Why the test is performed
The test is done to determine if the growth is cancerous (malignant). The procedure may also be done to relieve symptoms, such as with nasal polyps.
Examination of the biopsy shows the polyp to be benign (not cancer).
What abnormal results mean
Cancer cells are present and may be a sign of a cancerous tumor. Further tests may be needed. Often, the polyp may be removed.
What the risks are
- Hole (perforation) in organ
Itzkowitz SH, Potack J. Colonic polyps and polyposis syndromes. In: Feldman M, Friedman LS, Brandt LJ, eds. Sleisenger and Fordtran's Gastrointestinal and Liver Disease. 9th ed. Philadelphia, PA: Elsevier Saunders; 2010:chap 122.
Last reviewed 1/24/2013 by Denis Hadjiliadis, MD, Assistant Professor of Medicine, Division of Pulmonary, Allergy and Critical Care, University of Pennsylvania, Philadelphia, PA. Also reviewed by A.D.A.M. Health Solutions, Ebix, Inc., Editorial Team: David Zieve, MD, MHA, David R. Eltz, Stephanie Slon, and Nissi Wang.
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