Colon polyps are growths of tissue that form on the inner lining of your colon. These growths are a concern because they can become cancerous, resulting in colon cancer. Colon cancer is the third most common cancer in America and a major cause of cancer-related deaths. Here are five things you need to know about colon polyps.
What are the signs of colon polyps?
Colon polyps can lead to a variety of symptoms, including changes that are noticeable in the bathroom. Your stool may be a different color; you may see blood in the toilet or in your stool, and you may have prolonged constipation or diarrhea. While these symptoms can be embarrassing, it's important to mention them to your doctor.
If your colon polyps are large, they can cause symptoms outside of the bathroom. You may feel cramping pain in your abdomen, and may suffer from nausea or vomiting. If the polyps bleed, your body could lose the iron it needs, resulting in iron deficiency anemia. This will make you feel very tired.
Often, colon polyps don't cause any symptoms, so diagnostic testing plays an important role in identifying them.
What causes colon polyps?
The exact cause of colon polyps is still unclear, but a number of risk factors for the development of colon polyps have been identified. Gender is a risk factor: men are more likely to get colon polyps and tend to develop them at a younger age than women do. Obesity has also been shown to be a risk factor. Many studies have found that obese people are more likely to have colon polyps, even when factors like diet, age, or exercise habits are taken into account.
Smoking has also been consistently linked to colon polyps. This is because the carcinogens from smoke enter your bloodstream and are distributed throughout your body; if they reach the colon's lining, polyps can form in response.
How often do colon polyps become cancerous?
Colon polyps grow slowly, and it may take a long time for them to become cancerous. One study found that 8% of 1 cm (0.4 in) polyps had become cancerous after 10 years, while 24% had become cancerous after 20 years. It's important that polyps are detected early, before they have a chance to become cancerous.
How are colon polyps detected?
If your doctor thinks you may have colon polyps, you'll need to have a colonoscopy performed. This is a screening test that allows your doctor to examine the lining of your colon. During this test, a thin tube with a camera on the end—known as a colonoscope—will be used to view your colon.
How are they treated?
Colon polyps can be removed during your colonoscopy, so you don't need to worry about additional procedures. If your doctor detects polyps, they will use the built-in instruments (wire loops or forceps) on the end of the colonoscope to remove them. As a precaution, these polyps will be sent to a laboratory for analysis; this is done to make sure they aren't cancerous.
If polyps are found during your colonoscopy, your doctor may recommend having more frequent colonoscopies in the future. Generally, these tests only need to be done once every 10 years, but if a small polyp is found, your doctor may recommend a five-year schedule. If a large polyp is found, you may need to return for further testing every three years.
If you notice the symptoms of colon polyps, or are concerned that you might have asymptomatic polyps, contact resources like Tomas J Friedrich, M.D. They will likely be able to help diagnose you and send you to the right physician to treat you.