Colon and Rectal Polyps

What are colon and rectal polyps?

Colon and rectal polyps are benign or noncancerous growths found inside the colon (or large intestine) and rectum, the last two parts of the digestive tract before digested food waste exists the body. Some polyps grow on a “stalk” and expand out, resembling a mushroom. Others are flat. Most are asymptomatic except for minor bleeding, which is typically unnoticed. What are the symptoms of colon and rectal polyps?

Most often they do no cause any symptoms except for maybe some minor bleeding. Rarely, individuals may notice abdominal pain, iron deficiency anemia, or a change in the color of the stool as a result of minor bleeding. If colon and rectal polyps are benign and don’t typically cause any symptoms, why do we care so much about them?

Colorectal cancer often begins as a polyp, so screening for and removing polyps significantly reduces your risk for developing colorectal cancer in the future.

Will all polyps turn into cancer?

No. There are two main types of polyps: hyperplastic polyps and tubular adenomas.

The vast majority of polyps are benign (or “hyperplastic”); however, tubular adenomas and other less common types of polyps have the potential to turn into cancer. The majority of colorectal cancers arise from tubular adenomas. Roughly 10% of tubular adenomas if left alone will turn into colorectal cancer . The likelihood that an adenoma will become cancerous increases with size; however, we can’t predict, or be certain, which adenomas will turn into cancer just by looking at them or analyzing their size. Therefore, all polyps are removed during colonoscopy and sent to pathology for analysis of their cellular components.

If polyps are found in your colon or rectum during a colonoscopy, current screening guidelines recommend that you be screened for colorectal cancer more often than the general population. How common are polyps?

Roughly, 1 in every 4 people over the age of 60 who are screened for colorectal cancer will have a polyp, and about 1/3rd to 1/2 of all people will develop an adenoma at some point in their life.

If you have a personal history of colorectal polyps you are at increased risk for developing more in the future. How will I know if I have colon polyps?

Although most polyps do not cause symptoms, some polyps can cause minor bleeding. The only way to know for sure, though, if you have colon polyps or not is to be screened with colonoscopy.

All polyps should be removed during this procedure because most colorectal cancers most commonly begin from a polyp.

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