Colon Polyps

Colon Polyps

What are colon polyps?
A colon polyp is a growth on the inside surface of the colon (the large intestine).  Some colon polyps are benign (non-cancerous), and some types may already be potentially precancerous, precancerous or frankly cancerous.

What are the risks of colon polyps?
Anyone can get colon polyps, general risk factors include:

  • Family history
  • 50+ years of age (earlier risk for smokers, obese individuals or African American)
  • Uterine or ovarian cancer or other cancers
  • Lifestyle habits like high fat diet, excess alcohol, smoking and lack of exercise
  • Inflammatory bowel disorders such as ulcerative colitis or Crohn’s disease

What are the symptoms of colon polyps?
Colon polyps usually do not produce symptoms and are normally discovered during colonoscopy screening or while testing for blood in the stools. Symptoms are usually minimal including visible bleeding from the anus. Since the presence of symptoms such as a change in bowel habits indicates advanced disease or possible cancer, it is best to perform screening before symptoms occur.

How tests are performed to detect colon polyps?

  • Colonoscopy – A long, flexible tube with a camera is used to check for polyps or cancer inside the rectum and the entire colon.  This is the method of choice.
  • Sigmoidoscopy – A thin, shorter flexible, lighted tube is passed into your rectum and sigmoid colon to look at the last third of your large intestine.  It does not see the upper two-thirds of the colon where many polyps and cancers develop and is not regarded as adequate to screen for polyps and cancer. 
  • Barium enema – A liquid is put into your rectum, then x-rays of your large intestine are taken.  This test is very inaccurate and is not recommended.
  • Computerized tomography (CT) scan – A machine using x-ray and computers creates pictures of the large intestine.  This can miss most small polyps, exposes the patient to high doses of radiation and if a polyp is detected a regular colonoscopy is still needed to remove the polyp/s.
  • Stool tests – A sample of stool is tested for blood. This is a very insensitive test and is not recommended as a sole test.

How are colon polyps treated?
In most cases, the doctor removes colon polyps during colonoscopy. The polyps are then tested for precancerous or precancerous changes or cancer and a repeat colonoscopy is done at an appropriate interval based on the number, types, size and locations of the polyps.