Bladder polyps are small, often cauliflower-like growths that protrude from the lining of the urinary bladder where a person stores urine.
Typically, polyps are groups of abnormal cells that appear along mucous membranes in the body, though they can appear almost anywhere. Polyps can form in organs and be either harmless or potentially cancerous.
Polyps in the bladder may not cause symptoms, and a person can take some steps to avoid risk factors that may help prevent them occurring. A thorough diagnosis and treatment will be needed in every case, however, to avoid potentially serious complications.
The cells in a bladder polyp are abnormal. Even though the cells are abnormal, they are not always cancerous.
A bladder polyp may be benign, meaning the abnormal cells are harmless. Benign growths or tumors will not metastasize, in other words, spread to other tissues or organs in the body. Benign growths in the bladder are usually not life-threatening.
But bladder polyps can also be cancerous. And, cancerous growths in the bladder may spread to other areas of the urinary tract or nearby tissues.
Bladder cancer is one of the more common cancers. Because of this, a person with polyps in the bladder should have them regularly monitored even if doctors initially diagnosed them as benign.
Many people do not show symptoms in the early stages of bladder polyps. Other people will notice signs early on, or notice symptoms appear over time as the polyps progress.
Symptoms of bladder polyps can include:
- constant or urgent need to urinate
- pain in the abdomen
- pain while urinating
- more frequent urination
- blood in the urine
A person with any of these symptoms should take them seriously, as they may be signs of bladder cancer, in some cases. A thorough diagnosis is needed in each case, however, as the symptoms are common in other conditions, including urinary tract infections, urinary stones, or prostate inflammation.
Polyps in the bladder are groups of abnormal cells. These cells mutate, grow out of control, and group together to form the growth. Their cause is usually unknown.
Polyps that appear quickly and start spreading to other organs are typically cancerous. Several factors may lead to cancerous growths in the bladder.
Causes of bladder cancer include:
- Irritation. Regular irritation of the lining of the bladder, such as that caused by recurrent infections, urinary stones, or having catheters inserted may lead to abnormal cells that could become cancerous.
- Tobacco use. Smoking puts a person at risk for many types of cancers and may lead to bladder cancer in some. The blood can absorb harmful chemicals from tobacco smoke, which are then filtered by the kidney before entering the bladder in urine.
- Environmental factors. Exposure to radiation, cancer-causing chemicals in the workplace or environment, and arsenic in drinking water may build up in the bladder in some people. A person who works with paints, textiles, leather, or machinery may also be at greater risk than others.
- Certain medications. Some drug treatments may put a person at risk of bladder cancer, such as the diabetes medication pioglitazone (Actos). Experts are still researching this connection.
- Sex. Men are much more likely to get bladder cancer than women.
- Age. According to the American Cancer Society, 9 out of 10 people with bladder cancer are more than 55 years of age.
- Ethnicity. Caucasian people are more likely to get bladder cancer than other ethnicities, though scientists do not yet understand the reasons.
- Gene mutations. Some people may inherit certain genes from their parents that increase the risk of bladder cancer, but this cause can be difficult to pin down. Furthermore, bladder cancer does not appear to run in families.
- Human papillomavirus (HPV). In some high-risk people, the chances of having bladder cancer may increase if they have the human papillomavirus.
It is possible for people to change or control most of these risk factors in some way. However, there are certain risk factors for bladder cancer that an individual cannot control.
Correctly diagnosing bladder polyps is critical, as cancerous polyps may spread quickly if left untreated.
Doctors may ask about a person’s symptoms or personal medical history. If they appear to be having signs of bladder polyps or bladder cancer, the doctor may refer them to a specialist called a urologist for a more in-depth diagnosis.
A urologist will often recommend tests to help them identify polyps in the bladder or bladder cancer.
They will sometimes use cystoscopy to take a closer look at the polyp. This procedure is when a doctor inserts a thin tube with a light and camera into the bladder. They may also attach a small needle-like tool to the tube to take a few cells from the polyp for a biopsy. These cells will be sent to a lab to be examined for any abnormalities or malignancy.
In addition to cystoscopy and biopsy, doctors may recommend other tests, such as:
- Urine cytology. This test is when doctors checked the urine for markers of cancer.
- Urine tumor marker. A doctor can perform various tests that look for specific chemicals that cancer cells release.
- Urine culture. This gives a view of all the bacteria in the bladder. Urine culture tests are often ordered to rule out an infection as the cause of symptoms.
- Imaging tests. Imaging tests like MRI and CT scans help doctors visualize the polyps and see if tumors have spread to other areas in the body.
Treating a bladder polyp can vary and depend on what type of polyp a doctor has diagnosed.
A benign polyp that is not causing any symptoms may not require treatment at all. However, doctors might still want to monitor it over time.
They will usually opt to remove polyps that are large or causing symptoms.
A transurethral bladder resection is one way to remove these growths. During this procedure, a doctor will insert a cystoscope into the bladder through the urethra or tube that leads to the outside of the body. Once inside the bladder, an attached wire, laser, or electrical charge will remove the abnormal tissues.
Cancerous polyps or growths that have spread to other areas in the body may require more extensive treatment. Practices, including chemotherapy and immunotherapy, may help some people.
If cancer has spread into the deeper muscle tissue of the bladder, surgeons may need to remove the organ completely. This is called a radical cystectomy.
Depending on what other organs are affected, surgery may be required to remove all or part of these organs. Depending on whether it is a male or female patient, these may include the:
Along with medical treatment, a person may wish to explore complementary therapies and make lifestyle changes, such as:
The outlook when a person has polyps in the bladder varies significantly based on whether the growths are cancerous or benign. A non-cancerous growth that doctors can completely remove from the bladder should no longer cause symptoms.
The outlook for cancerous polyps and bladder cancer vary based on the severity and stage of the disease. If doctors catch someone cancer quickly, they will typically have a better survival rate, which is why early diagnosis is so vital.
Anyone who notices symptoms, such as blood in their urine or pain and difficulty urinating, should contact a doctor for a thorough diagnosis.