Difference Between Polyp and Cyst

Polyp and Cyst are medical terms often used interchangeably. However it is important to understand the differences between the two for proper prevention and treatment.

In this article:

1. Basic Definitions

2. Polyps: Causes, Types, Medical Diagnosis and Medical Treatment

3. Cysts: Causes, Types, Medical Diagnosis and Medical Treatment

4. Differences between a Polyp and a Cyst

1.  Basic Definitions

A polyp is an abnormal growth of tissue, protruding from the mucous membrane.

A cyst is a semi-solid cavity filled with fluid or air and can develop in any part of the body including organs, soft tissues and bones.

2.  About Polyps

A polyp is defined as an abnormal growth of tissue, protruding out from the mucous membrane. Polyps are usually found in colon, cervix, uterus, stomach, nose, throat and ear canal and usually do not exceed 1.25 cm (0.5 inch) in its width.

Causes of Polyps

Major causes for polyps to grow include:

  • Inflammation
  • Foreign bodies
  • Cysts and tumours
  • Mutation of colon cell genes
  • Chronic inflammation in the stomach
  • Excessive estrogen levels (hormonal replacement therapy)

Types of Polyps

  • Pedunculated polyp has a narrow elongated stalk, connecting the tissue growth to the mucous membrane.
  • Sassile polyp do not have a polyp and directly connects to the mucous membrane.

Pedunculated polyp and Sessile polyp

Most polyps are benign or non-cancerous in nature, but there is a potential for transforming into malignant ones since there is a rapid multiplication of abnormal cells.

Medical Diagnosis of Polyps

Doctors diagnose polyps by taking a complete history from the patient along with a thorough physical examination which will be helpful to identify other associated signs. A skin biopsy will confirm the diagnosis of a polyp which will further determine the benign or malignant nature of it.

Most benign polyps do not need any medical intervention. Some polyps require surgical management, depending on their nature, severity, size and results of the biopsy.

Medical Treatments for Polyps

  • Throat polyps - Rest and voice therapy
  • Colon polyps - Removal of the polyp using colonoscopy
  • Cervical and Uterine polyps - Progestin and Gonadotropin-releasing hormone agonists
  • Nasal polyps - Nasal steroids or Corticosteroid treatments

3.  About Cysts

A cyst is a semi-solid cavity filled with fluid, air or semi-solid substance and can develop in any part of the body including organs, soft tissues and bones. Most cysts are benign and they do not become cancerous except in a few exceptional cases.

Cysts usually have a regular margin with an outer layer referred to as a capsule. The inner material of air and fluid fills the lumen.

Causes of Cysts

The major causes of a cyst in the body include:

  • Bacterial infections
  • Clogging or blockage of sebaceous glands with their own secretions
  • Obstruction of other glands with foreign bodies
  • Obstruction of the flow of natural fluids inside the body

 Commonest examples for cysts include:

  • Sebaceous (Epidermoid) cysts which are tiny bumps beneath the skin,
  • Hepatic cysts which occur in the liver tissue,
  • Kidney (renal) cysts
  • Breast cysts
  • Ovarian cysts

Medical Diagnosis of Cysts

If you notice a lump or bump on your skin which is painful, itchy or progressively increasing in size, it is highly recommended to seek immediate medical advice. Your doctor will take a history about how the cyst appeared initially, growth with time and other associated symptoms which will then be followed by a clinical examination.

The doctor will palpate (physical examination) the cyst over the skin and find the size, consistency and texture of the lump or bump using various instruments. The cyst will usually be felt soft to the hand since it is more likely to be filled with fluid, air or semi-solid materials.

Medical Treatment of Cysts

Treatment modalities for cysts depend on its size, location, extension and severity. Most cysts can be treated with incision and drainage under local anaesthesia whereas some extensively spread ones might need surgical intervention.

However, it is highly advisable to do relevant tests and imaging studies to carry out required treatments as soon as the diagnosis is made, since some cysts can enlarge rapidly over a short period of time and rupture, giving rise to several complications which might be fatal.

Cysts in the ovaries and abdomen should be managed very carefully since the rupture of them can severely contaminate the pelvic and peritoneal cavities, respectively, which might result in several life-threatening conditions.

4.  Difference between a polyp and cyst

A polyp is an abnormal growth of tissue protruding from the mucous membrane.

A polyp has a higher chance of becoming cancerous.

A cyst is a cavity filled with fluid, air or semi-solid substance and can develop in any part of the body including organs, soft tissues or bones.

A cyst is usually benign and rarely become malignant growths.




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