What are Colon Polyps?
Although polyps can grow in places other than your colon, doctors pay special attention to colorectal polyps detected during colonoscopy procedures because colon polyps are a strong sign that the patient may develop colon cancer. Essentially, a colon polyp is a cellular growth that emerges from the lining of your large intestine. While many are hyperplastic and will not cause any harm or spreading—adenomatous polyps are pre-cancerous growths that have the potential to turn malignant and start spreading rapidly over time. They should be removed as a precaution against colon cancer.
Colon polyps can affect patients at any age, but those diagnosed with polyps are mostly patients over 50 who are getting regularly screened for colon cancer with a colonoscopy, African American males, overweight patients and patients who smoke. Polyps also run in families, so you should get tested if you have a family member who has been diagnosed with colon polyps previously, as you have a higher chance of developing colon cancer. Early detection of colon polyps and other signs of colon cancer is the best way to prevent cancer.
Will I Experience Symptoms if I Have Colon Polyps?
Most of the time, colon polyps will not cause you to experience any symptoms. Patients usually don’t know about the presence of polyps unless a doctor finds them during a colonoscopy or sometimes x-ray tests (if the polyps are large enough in size). However, if you do notice symptoms such as colorectal bleeding, bloody stool, constipation, diarrhea, oddly shaped stools or colorectal pain or blockage—you may have colon polyps that have started to bleed or are causing bowel problems. If any of these symptoms persist for more than 7 days, please contact a doctor and seek treatment. Colon cancer is one of the leading causes of death among cancer patients in the United States, and it’s important to diagnose the disease early on for effective treatment.
What Medical Procedures Will Be Performed to Treat My Colon Polyps?
Since nearly all cases of colon cancer derive from some form of colorectal polyps, getting screened regularly for polyps, especially if you are at higher risk of developing them, can be the key to catching cancer before it spreads to other organs. The most common and well-recommended procedure to screen for colon-related diseases and conditions is colonoscopy, during which a gastroenterologist or colorectal surgeon will use a long, flexible camera called a colonoscope to examine the entire length of your colon while you are under conscious sedation. Other tests that can detect colon polyps include CT scan (virtual colonoscopy), flexible sigmoidoscopy and barium enema—although none of these are as thorough as a colonoscopy.
During a colonoscopy, specialists can also perform surgery (polypectomy) through the endoscope in the event that a colon polyp is found. Polyp removal is a low-risk procedure that won’t require a second colonoscopy unless the polyp found is too big to be removed without more invasive surgery. However, this is not usually the case, and a snare device can often be used to cut the polyp immediately and prevent post-procedural bleeding. Only if the polyps are infected or have affected too much of the colon will surgery (colon resection or removal) be necessary.
Reviewed 12/29/2011 by David M. Nolan, M.D.
Diplomate of the American Board of Internal Medicine, 2011
Currently a Fellow of Gastroenterology, at UCI 2011-2014