Biopsy - polyps

Alternative names
Polyp biopsy

A polyp biopsy is a diagnostic procedure that removes polyps (abnormal growths of tissue that may be cancerous) for examination.

How the test is performed

A polyp is an outgrowth of tissue that may be attached by a pedicle. They are commonly found in organs with many blood vessels, such as the uterus, rectum, and nose. Some polyps are cancerous (malignant) and likely to spread, while others are normal (benign).

How a polyp biopsy is taken depends on the location:

  • EGD (esophagogastroduodenoscopy) or other endoscopy is used for the throat, stomach and small bowel.  
  • Colonoscopy or flexible sigmoidoscopy explores the large bowel.  
  • Colposcopy-directed biopsy examines the vagina and cervix

For areas of the body that are visible, a topical anesthetic is applied, and a small piece of the tissue that appears to be abnormal is removed. This tissue is sent to the laboratory, where technicians determine if the polyp is benign or malignant.

How to prepare for the test

If the biopsy is to take place in the nose, or other visible surface or orifice, no special preparation is required, although fasting for a few a hours may be advisable.

There is more involved preparation for internal procedures. Please see the particular procedure for additional information.

How the test will feel

For superficial polyps, you may feel a tugging sensation while the biopsy is being taken. After the anesthetic wears off, the area may be sore for a few days. Biopsies of internal polyps are performed during procedures (for example EGD or colonoscopy), and usually nothing is felt during or after the biopsy. Please see the individual procedure topics for more specific information.

Why the test is performed
The test is performed to determine if the growth is malignant.

Normal Values
The biopsy examination shows the polyp to be benign.

What abnormal results mean

Malignant cells are present and may indicate a malignant tumor. Further tests may be needed.

What the risks are
Risks include:

  • Organ perforation  
  • Infection  
  • Bleeding


Johns Hopkins patient information

Last revised: December 4, 2012
by Janet G. Derge, M.D.

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