Knowing more about polyps and colon cancer
A colon polyp is a growth that occurs on the wall of the large intestine or colon. Polyps are common in people over 40 and often grow slowly. They can progress to colon cancer, which is why they are usually removed during a colonoscopy.
Colon cancer screening is the best way to find and remove them before they turn cancerous. Colonoscopy screening is safe, effective and recommended by healthcare professionals.
If you have questions about how often you should be screened or with what tests, talk to your health care provider.
Symptoms of Polyps
In most cases, polyps cause no symptoms. Because they don’t usually cause symptoms, they can go undetected until they’re discovered during a colonoscopy or other colon test. When polyps cause symptoms, they can include:
- Blood in the stool (black or red)
- Rectal bleeding
- Constipation or diarrhea that does not go away
Some people are more at risk than others of developing polyps in their colon due to their age or family history. Some of these risk factors include:
- Age over 50
- Family or personal history
- Family history of colon cancer
- Personal history of uterine or ovarian cancer
- Being African American
Other risk factors are due to lifestyle. They include:
- High-fat diet
- Smoking history
- Drinking history
- A sedentary lifestyle
There is no specific way to prevent colon polyps from developing, but eating properly, exercising, and living a healthy lifestyle by not smoking or drinking alcohol can help. Calcium, folic acid supplements, and daily low doses of aspirin may also protect against the development of polyps.
Types of Polyps
There are four main types: adenomatous adenoma (tubular adenoma), hyperplastic, inflammatory, and villous adenoma (tubulovillous adenoma). A flat-shaped polyp is called sessile, and one with a long stem is called pedunculated.
Adenomatous or tubular adenoma:
This type of polyp carries a risk of becoming cancerous and is the most common. When this type of polyp is found, it will be tested for cancer. People who have these will need periodic exams to check and rule out any other polyps.
These polyps are normal, small and have a low risk of becoming cancerous. Any of these found in the colon will be removed and tested to make sure they are not cancerous.
Villous adenoma or tubulovillus adenoma. This type of polyp has a high risk of developing cancer. They are usually sessile, which makes them more difficult to remove.
Pseudopolyps often occur in people with inflammatory bowel disease (IBD). These types, also called inflammatory polyps, differ from the other three forms and are not cancerous. They result from chronic inflammation that occurs in the colon of people with Crohn’s disease and ulcerative colitis.
Polyps and their link to colon cancer
A polyp is a precancerous growth, which means that if it stays in the colon, it can become cancerous. If removed, such as during a colonoscopy, it has no chance of becoming cancerous. Once a polyp is removed, it will be tested for cancer by a pathologist. Sessile polyps are more likely to become cancerous than stem polyps.