What are colon polyps?
Colon polyps are growths in your large intestine (colon). The cause of most colon polyps is not known, but they are common in adults. Over time, some polyps can turn into colorectal cancer. It usually takes many years for that to happen.
What increases your risk?
You are more likely to have colon polyps if you:
- Are older. Risk increases with age.
- Have people in your family with colon polyps or colorectal cancer.
- Inherit a certain gene that causes you to develop polyps. People with this gene are much more likely than others to get the kind of polyps that turn into colorectal cancer.
- Are obese.
What are the symptoms of colon polyps?
You can have colon polyps and not know it, because they usually don't cause symptoms. They are most often found during routine screening tests for colorectal cancer. A screening test looks for signs of a disease when there are no symptoms.
If polyps are large or become cancerous, they can cause symptoms. You may have bleeding from your rectum or a change in your bowel habits. A change in bowel habits includes diarrhea, constipation, going to the bathroom more often or less often than usual, or a change in the way your stool looks.
How are they diagnosed?
Most colon polyps are found during tests for colorectal cancer. These tests include stool tests that you can do at home and procedures to look inside the colon that are done at your doctor's office or clinic.
Stool tests look for signs of cancer in a stool sample. If your result is abnormal, you'll probably have a follow-up colonoscopy to find the cause, which could be colon polyps, colorectal cancer, or another problem.
Procedures that can look inside the colon and find polyps include colonoscopy, flexible sigmoidoscopy, and CT colonography (virtual colonoscopy). Polyps found during a colonoscopy can often be removed during the test. If polyps are found during one of the other procedures, you may need a colonoscopy.
If you've had any polyps, routine follow-up testing is important. How often you need it will depend on what kind of polyps were found, how many, and other issues.
How are they treated?
Doctors often remove colon polyps, because some of them can turn into colorectal cancer. Most polyps are removed during a colonoscopy. You may need to have surgery if you have a large polyp.
After removal, polyps are checked to find out if they are the kind that could become cancer. If cancer is found when the colon polyps are checked, you will begin treatment for colorectal cancer.
For some types of polyps, the bigger a colon polyp is the more likely it is that the polyp will contain cancer cells. After you have had polyps, you have a higher chance of developing new polyps. If you have had polyps removed, it is important to have follow-up tests to look for more polyps. Talk to your doctor about how often you need to be tested.
Current as of: May 4, 2022
Author: Healthwise Staff
E. Gregory Thompson MD - Internal Medicine
Kathleen Romito MD - Family Medicine
Adam Husney MD - Family Medicine
Jerome B. Simon MD, FRCPC, FACP - Gastroenterology