Colorectal polyps

Colon cancer is one of the leading causes of cancer-related deaths in the United States. The good news is that early diagnosis often leads to a complete cure. Let's talk today about colorectal polyps.

A colorectal polyp is a growth of tissue that sticks out of the lining of the colon or rectum. Polyps are benign, meaning that they're not cancer and they won't spread, but over time certain types can develop into cancer. One of these types is called adenomatous polyps. These are known as pre-cancerous polyps.

Polyps bigger than 1 centimeter have a greater cancer risk than polyps under 1 centimeter. Risk factors include your age, family history of colon cancer or polyps, and a type of polyp called villous adenoma. Polyps may also be associated with a few genetically inherited disorders.

So, how do you know if you have polyps?
Well, usually, you won't have any symptoms. Some people, however, may feel abdominal pain (rarely), have blood in their stool, and feel fatigue from losing blood over time.

Usually, a routine colon cancer screening will reveal a polyp through tests called barium enema, colonoscopy, sigmoidoscopy, or virtual colonoscopy.

So, what do you do about polyps?
Well, because colorectal polyps can develop into cancer, your doctor should remove them. Usually, polyps will be removed during a colonoscopy. If your doctor finds that you have adenomatous polyps, be aware that you may get new polyps in the future. Your doctor will recommend that you have a follow-up colonoscopy in 1 to 10 years, depending upon your age and general health, the number of polyps the doctor found, the size and characteristic of the polyps, and if cancer was found.

The good news is that your outlook is excellent if your doctor removes colorectal polyps and performs routine surveillance and screening.

Version Info

  • Last reviewed on 11/16/2011
  • Mitchell W. Hecht, MD FACP, Internal Medicine private practice in Roswell, GA; author of the nationally-syndicated medical column 'Ask Dr. H.' Also reviewed by David Zieve, MD, MHA, Medical Director, A.D.A.M. Health Solutions, Ebix, Inc.

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