Most colon polyps are not cancer. But some growths can turn into colon cancer. If a colon polyp is the kind that can turn into cancer, it usually takes many years for that to happen.
People over 50 are more likely than younger people to get colon cancer. So experts recommend that everyone age 50 or older have a screening test to look for colon polyps. Finding and removing colon polyps can prevent colon cancer.
What are the symptoms?
You can have colon polyps and not know it because they usually don't cause symptoms. They are usually found during routine screening tests for colon cancer. A screening test looks for signs of a disease when there are no symptoms.
If polyps get large, 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 colon polyps diagnosed?
Most polyps are found during screening tests for colon cancer. Screening is advised if you are age 50 or older or you have a higher risk for the disease. The four screening tests for colon cancer are:
Colonoscopy. In this test, the doctor inserts a small viewing tube all the way into your colon and looks for polyps. The doctor can also take out any polyps he or she finds.
Flexible sigmoidoscopy. This test is like a colonoscopy, except that the viewing tube is shorter so the doctor can only look at the last part of your colon.
Fecal occult blood test. This test checks for blood in your stool. You place a small sample of stool on a special card, pad, or wipe in a kit that your doctor gives you. The sample is sent to a lab and is tested to see if it contains blood.
Barium enema. To make it show up on an X-ray, your colon is filled with a white liquid (barium). The liquid blocks the X-rays, so your colon shows up clearly in the picture.
Doctors often recommend colonoscopy because it lets them look at the whole colon and remove any polyps they find. If polyps are found during another type of test, you may still need colonoscopy so the doctor can remove the polyps.
What increases my risk of getting colon polyps?
You are more likely to have colon polyps if:
You are over 50.
Colon polyps run in your family.
You inherited 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 colon cancer.
How are they treated?
Doctors usually remove colon polyps because some of them can turn into colon cancer. Most polyps are removed during a colonoscopy. You may need to have surgery if you have a large polyp.
Colon polyps can grow back. If you have had polyps removed, it is important to have follow-up testing to look for more polyps. Talk to your doctor about how often you need to be tested.