What Are Colonic Polyps?
also known as colorectal polyps, are benign (noncancerous) growths that appear
on the surface of your colon. The colon, or large intestine, is a long hollow
tube at the bottom of your digestive tract. It’s where your body makes and
stores stool. Polyps in the colon can vary in size and number. Most polyps are
harmless, but they can slowly progress into cancer over time. Colon cancer is a serious condition that can be
life-threatening in its later stages.
can occur in anyone, but people over age 50 are most at risk. You also have a
higher risk of getting polyps in the colon if you’re overweight, a smoker, or
have a family history of colon cancer.
polyps usually don't cause symptoms, it's important to have regular screening
tests that can detect any existing polyps. When colonic polyps are found in the
early stages, they can often be removed safely and completely. Removing potentially cancerous polyps
may reduce your risk of developing colon cancer.
What Are the Symptoms of Colonic
The symptoms of
colonic polyps can vary from person to person. Some people don’t experience any
symptoms, so polyps often go undetected until they’re discovered by a doctor.
Your doctor may find colonic polyps while performing a physical exam or a
diagnostic test for another condition. However, if you do experience symptoms,
they may include:
- blood in the stool
- diarrhea or constipation that
lasts longer than one week
- anal bleeding
If you notice blood
on the toilet paper or your underwear after a bowel movement, this can indicate
anal bleeding. Blood in your stool may appear black or have red streaks.
What Causes Colonic Polyps?
Doctors don’t know
the exact cause of colonic polyps, but polyps usually result from abnormal
tissue growth. The body periodically develops new healthy cells to replace old
cells that are damaged or no longer needed. The growth and division of new
cells is usually regulated. In some cases, however, new cells grow and divide
before they’re needed. This excess growth causes polyps to form. The polyps can
develop in any area of the colon.
Who Is at Risk for Colonic Polyps?
specific cause of colonic polyps isn’t known, there are certain factors that can
increase your risk of developing polyps. These include:
- being over age 50
- having a family history of polyps
or colon cancer
- having had polyps in the past
- having had ovarian or uterine
cancer before age 50
- having an inflammatory condition
that affects the colon, such as Crohn’s disease or ulcerative colitis
- having uncontrolled type 2 diabetes
- having a hereditary disorder, such
as Lynch syndrome or Gardner’s syndrome
that may contribute to the growth of colonic polyps include:
- being overweight
- frequently drinking alcohol
- exercising infrequently
- eating a high-fat diet
You may be able to
lower your risk for colonic polyps if you make lifestyle changes to address
these behaviors. Regularly taking a low dose of aspirin and adding more calcium
to your diet may also help prevent polyps. Your doctor may have other
suggestions for reducing your risk.
How Are Colonic Polyps Diagnosed?
Your doctor may perform
a series of tests to identify colonic polyps. These tests include:
- Colonoscopy: During this procedure, a camera attached to a thin, flexible
tube is threaded through the anus. This allows your doctor to view the rectum
and colon. If a polyp is found, your doctor can remove it immediately or take
tissue samples for analysis.
- Sigmoidoscopy: This screening method is similar to a
colonoscopy, but it can only be used to see the rectum and lower colon. It
can’t be used to take a biopsy, or a sample of tissue. If your doctor detects a
polyp, you'll need to schedule a colonoscopy to have it removed.
- Barium enema: For this test, your doctor
injects liquid barium into your rectum and then uses a special X-ray to take images
of your colon. Barium makes your colon appear white in the pictures. Since polyps
are dark, they’re easy to identify.
- CT colonography: This procedure
uses a CT scan to construct images of the colon and rectum. After the scan, a
computer combines the images of the colon and rectum to produce both 2- and 3-D
views of the area. A CT colonography is sometimes called a virtual colonoscopy. It can show swollen tissues,
ulcers, and polyps.
- Stool test: Your doctor will give
you a test kit and instructions for providing a stool sample. You'll return the
sample to your doctor's office for analysis, especially to test for microscopic
How Are Colonic Polyps Treated?
The best way to
treat colonic polyps is to remove them. Your doctor will likely remove your
polyps during a colonoscopy. The polyps are then tested for cancer, unless your
doctor has already determined that they’re benign, or noncancerous. Doctors can
usually get rid of polyps without performing surgery.
However, you may
need laparoscopic surgery to remove the polyps if they’re large and can’t be
removed during a colonoscopy. Laparoscopic surgery is a minimally invasive procedure
that uses an instrument called a laparoscope. A laparoscope is a long, thin tube with a high-intensity
light and a high-resolution camera at the front. The instrument is inserted
through an incision in the abdomen. Once your doctor has a visual of your
colon, they’ll remove the polyps using a special tool.
A pathologist, or
someone who specializes in tissue analysis, will check the polyps for cancer.
The results will then be sent to your doctor.
What Is the Long-Term Outlook for
Someone with Colonic Polyps?
Colonic polyps are
usually noncancerous and considered harmless. Removing polyps may reduce or
eliminate any related symptoms you were experiencing. It can also help prevent
colon cancer in the future.
Since you have a
higher risk of developing more polyps in the future, your doctor will recommend
additional screenings in three to five years.
How Can Colonic Polyps Be
Maintaining a healthy
diet can help prevent the development of colonic polyps. This includes eating
more fruits, vegetables, whole grains, and lean meat. You may also be able to
prevent polyps by increasing your intake of vitamin D and calcium. Food that are
rich in vitamin D and calcium include:
You can further
lower your risk for colonic polyps by reducing your intake of high-fat foods,
red meat, and processed foods. Quitting smoking and exercising regularly are
also important steps to take to prevent the development of colonic polyps.