Stomach polyps (also known as gastric polyps) are unusual growths that develop on the inner lining of your stomach (the gastric mucosa). Most stomach polyps are not serious and cause no symptoms.
The polyps themselves are not cancerous. However, certain types of polyps may eventually develop into stomach cancer.
Stomach polyps: causes and types
Causes of stomach polyps
Stomach polyps usually develop after your stomach lining has been damaged in some way. The main causes of stomach polyps include:
- Proton pump inhibitor medications: Fundic gland polyps are sometimes caused by regularly taking proton pump inhibitors to treat heartburn or GERD.
- Helicobacter pylori infection: Helicobacter pylori (H pylori) is a bacteria that can infect the stomach lining, causing ulcers and inflammation. In places where H pylori infections are common, people have a higher risk for developing hyperplastic polyps.
- Chronic stomach inflammation: Inflammation of the stomach lining is called gastritis. Chronic gastritis can lead to the development of hyperplastic or adenomatous polyps.
- Familial adenomatous polyposis: This is a rare inherited condition that causes the development of many precancerous adenomatous polyps throughout the digestive system.
Types of stomach polyps
There are several different types of stomach polyps, including:
Fundic gland polyps. These are the most common types of stomach polyps in the United States. They develop on the fundus, the upper part of the stomach, and they appear as many small, smooth bumps. Fundic gland polyps rarely develop into cancer.
Hyperplastic polyps. This is the second most common kind of gastric polyp. Hyperplastic polyps appear as clusters scattered throughout the stomach. Most hyperplastic polyps are not cancerous, but larger polyps have an increased risk of becoming cancer at a later time.
Adenomatous polyps. Adenomatous polyps are the most serious type of stomach polyp because they usually mark the start of stomach cancer. They may also be a sign that you have an increased risk for other types of intestinal cancer.
Stomach polyp symptoms and diagnosis
Most stomach polyps cause no symptoms. You may only find out you have stomach polyps during tests for another condition.
Sometimes, larger polyps may block the opening of your stomach or small intestine, or polyps may get very large or develop sores on them. In these cases, you may experience symptoms like:
- Tenderness or pain when you press on your belly.
- Anemia, which occurs when you don’t have enough healthy red blood cells to carry oxygen throughout your body. Anemia may develop if the polyp starts bleeding.
- Weight loss and vomiting, especially if the polyp has caused a blockage.
Stomach polyps are often found during an upper endoscopy for another condition. During an upper endoscopy, your doctor inserts a thin, flexible tube with a light and camera at the end (an endoscope) through your mouth and into your esophagus. They can thread this tube down to your stomach.
If your doctor sees a polyp, they will need to take a small sample (a biopsy) so that it can be looked at more closely in a lab. A specialist will look at the sample under a microscope to determine what type of cells make up the polyp. The specialist will also look for signs of dysplasia, or the presence of abnormal cells within the polyp. Detecting dysplasia increases the risk that a polyp will develop into cancer.
Based on your biopsy, your doctor will diagnose your polyps and work with you to design a treatment plan.
Treatments for stomach polyps
Stomach polyp treatment varies, depending on:
- Polyp type.
- Polyp size.
- Polyp shape.
- Polyp location.
- How many polyps you have.
- Your symptoms.
- Your risk factors, which include your family medical history, your age, and whether you smoke.
Fundic polyps and hyperplastic polyps generally don’t develop into cancer.
Unless your polyp is large or shows signs of dysplasia, your doctor may recommend simply keeping an eye on it. You may need to get more frequent upper endoscopies.
Large stomach polyps or polyps with dysplasia
Larger polyps have an increased risk of developing into cancer. They are also more likely to cause uncomfortable symptoms.
For these reasons, your doctor may recommend removing it in a procedure called a polypectomy. This can often be done using an endoscope, and you won’t need to stay overnight in the hospital.
Adenomatous polyps and polyps caused by familial adenomatous polyposis
Adenomatous polyps have the greatest risk for developing into stomach cancer, so your doctor will recommend removing them no matter their size.
Your doctor will likely perform a polypectomy using an endoscope.
Polyps may develop because of chronic gastritis or H pylori infection. You may need additional treatment to deal with these issues.
H pylori can usually be treated with antibiotics. Treatment for gastritis may involve reducing your alcohol consumption, changing your diet, and taking medications to reduce stomach acid production.
If you have fundic gland polyps and are taking proton-pump inhibitors, you and your doctor may want to discuss cutting back on the medication or finding alternatives.
Recovery from stomach polyp removal
After you have stomach polyps removed, your doctor will give you some instructions for taking care of yourself and promoting healing. Be sure to follow these instructions closely.
Stomach polyps removal recovery usually takes 2 weeks. Right after the procedure, you may feel some pain or tenderness in your stomach. Take pain medications as prescribed by your doctor.
Your doctor may also recommend you change your diet during your recovery. This may involve food and drinks that can irritate your digestive system, like coffee, soda, alcohol, and spicy food.
Be on the lookout for any signs of complications. Call your doctor right away if you experience vomiting, fever or chills, or severe pain and bloating. These may be signs of infection.
National Center for Biotechnology Information (NCBI): National Library of Medicine. Gastric Polyps: A Review of Clinical, Endoscopic, and Histopathologic Features and Management Decisions (https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3992058/)
National Center for Biotechnology Information (NCBI): National Library of Medicine. Gastric Polyp (https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books/NBK560704/)