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Colon Polyps

What is a colon polyp?
Polyps are benign growths involving the lining of the bowel (non-cancerous tumors). They can occur in several locations in the gastrointestinal tract, but are most common in the colon. They vary in size from less than a quarter of an inch to several inches in diameter. They look like small bumps growing from the lining of the bowel and protruding into the lumen (bowel cavity). Many patients have several polyps scattered in different parts of the colon.

How common are colon polyps? What causes them?
Polyps are very common in adults, who have an increased chance of acquiring them as they age. While quite rare in 20-year-olds, it’s estimated that the average 60-year old without special risk factors for polyps has a 25 percent chance of having polyps. It's not known what causes them, but some experts believe a high-fat, low-fiber diet can be a predisposition to polyp formation. There may be a genetic risk to developing polyps as well.

What are the known risks for developing polyps?
The biggest risk factor for developing polyps is being older than 50. A family history of colon polyps or colon cancer increases the chance of polyps. Also, patients with a personal history of polyps or colon cancer are at risk of developing new polyps.

Are there different types of polyps?
There are two common types: hyperplastic polyp and adenoma. The hyperplastic polyp is not at risk for cancer and, therefore, is not as significant. The adenoma, however, is thought to be the precursor (origin) for almost all colon cancers, although most adenomas never become cancers.

How are polyps found?
Most polyps cause no symptoms. Larger ones can cause blood in the stools, but even they are usually asymptomatic. Therefore, the best way to detect polyps is by screening individuals with no symptoms. Because colonoscopy is the most accurate way to detect polyps, many experts now recommend colonoscopy as a screening method so that any polyps found or suspected can be removed during the same procedure.

How are polyps removed?
Most polyps found during colonoscopy can be completely removed during the procedure. Various removal techniques are available; most involve severing them with a wire loop and/or burning the polyp base with an electric current. This is called polyp resection.

What are the risks of polyp removal?
Polyp removal during colonoscopy is a routine outpatient procedure. Possible complications, which are uncommon, include bleeding from the polypectomy site and perforation (a hole) of the colon. Bleeding from the polypectomy sire can be immediate or delayed for several days; persistent bleeding can almost always be stopped by treatment during colonoscopy. Perforations usually require surgery.

How often do I need colonoscopy if I have polyps removed?
The timing depends on several factors, including the number and size of polyps removed, the polyps’ tissue type and the quality of the colon cleansing for your previous procedure. If the polyps were small and the entire colon was well seen during your colonoscopy, doctors generally recommend a repeat colonoscopy in three years. If your repeat colonoscopy doesn’t show any indication of polyps, you might not need another procedure for an additional five years.