WHAT ARE POLYPS?
Polyps are abnormal growths from the lining of the colon, which vary in size from a tiny dot to several inches. They are common in adults and become more common with age.
The majority of polyps are benign (non-cancerous), but the doctor cannot always tell a benign from a pre-cancerous polyp by its outer appearance alone. For this reason, removed polyps are sent to the lab to be analyzed. Removal of colon polyps is an important way of preventing colorectal cancer.
There are two types of polyps:
- Hyperplastic: non-cancerous growth, benign;
- Adenoma: may be pre-cancerous growth (could turn into cancer if not removed).
WHAT CAUSES POLYPS?
The cause for polyps is unknown. Polyps may be hereditary, so having family members with polyps or colon cancer is an important risk factor and requires regular screenings. Being over the age of 50 is one of the risk factors for developing polyps, but some rare polyp syndromes run in families and can develop in people younger than 50.
Once you have been diagnosed as having a polyp, you are at an increased risk of developing more polyps or colon cancer in the future.
WHAT ARE THE SYMPTOMS OF POLYPS?
Most polyps have no symptoms, although large polyps may cause some bleeding.
WHAT CAN I DO ABOUT POLYPS?
Tell your primary care doctor if you are experiencing blood in your stool, irregular bowel habits, or a change in your bowel habits. Your doctor may want to schedule you for a colonoscopy.
Talk to your primary care doctor about getting a screening colonoscopy when you are 50 years old. Tell your primary care doctor if you have a family history of polyps.
The gastroenterologist can use several tests to find polyps in the colon:
- Computerized tomography (CT) colonography scan. A CT colonography scan is a diagnostic test and takes less time to perform than a colonoscopy. If polyps are found, a colonoscopy is required in order to remove the growths;
- Stool test. The patient brings a stool sample in a special container to the doctor’s office. The sample is tested for trace amounts of blood in the stool, which could be a sign of polyps or cancer.
WHAT WILL THE DOCTOR DO IF HE FINDS A POLYP?
The doctor will remove the polyp(s) during a colonoscopy.
The growths will be sent to the Pathologist (a doctor who studies tissue and cells under a microscope) to determine if the polyp is hyperplastic (non-cancerous) or adenoma (pre-cancerous.)
After the colonoscopy you will receive discharge instructions that will:
- describe the findings of your procedure;
- list possible complications which may occur after your procedure;
- give you phone numbers to call if you experience any problems;
- inform you of any follow-up care needed.