Nasal Polyps vs. Nasal Tumors: What’s the Difference?

Polyps and tumors may cause similar symptoms.

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When many people hear the word “polyps,” they quickly think of cancer. After all, polyps in the colon can sometimes turn into colon cancer. However, it’s important to remember that nasal polyps are typically harmless and benign (non-cancerous). So how do doctors tell the difference between nasal polyps and nasal tumors?

What Are Nasal Polyps?

Nasal polyps are growths of tissue that hang like upside-down balloons in the nasal or sinus cavities. They can be large or small, and bigger polyps tend to cause worse symptoms. (Learn more about the symptoms of nasal polyps here.)

Doctors diagnose nasal polyps by examining inside the nose. Nasal polyps tend to have a whiter appearance than normal and healthy nose tissue. Usually, there will be nasal polyps on both sides of the nose. In other words, they are “bilateral.”

What Are Nasal Tumors?

Cancer of the nasal cavity can cause similar symptoms as nasal polyps. For example, symptoms of nasal tumors may include:

  • Stuffy or runny nose
  • Loss of sense of smell
  • “Blocked” nose

The difference between nasal polyps and nasal tumors is that tumors tend to only affect one side of the nose. When doctors examine your nose, they would only see unilateral growths, meaning just on one side.

Plus, nasal tumors may cause the following additional symptoms, according to the American Cancer Society:

  • Pain near the eyes and sinuses
  • Pus or blood draining from the nose
  • Numbness or pain in the face
  • Changes of the teeth, such as loosening or numbness
  • Changes of the eyes, such as bulging or worsening vision
  • Changes of the ears, such as pain or hearing loss
  • Pain or difficulty opening the mouth
  • Enlarged lymph nodes in the neck

Still, your doctor may need to do a biopsy of the growth to decide if it’s really a polyp or a tumor. Recognizing nasal tumors early is important, since early treatment for nasal cancer may improve treatment outcomes.

If it’s not cancerous, your doctor may prescribe treatment options for nasal polyps. Treatment can help shrink or eliminate the polyps. This may help you breathe better and have an improved quality of life.