Colon polyps are fleshy growths that form on the inside lining of the colon or large intestine. Polyps typically grow very slowly, and usually cause no symptoms unless they become very large or inflamed. Most colon polyps are benign, but some can develop into colon cancer. As a result, when a polyp is found, it needs to be removed and evaluated in a lab to determine if cancer cells are present and also to prevent a potentially cancerous polyp from developing into a tumor.
Most polyps are found during a routine colonoscopy (which evaluates the entire large intestine) or a flexible sigmoidoscopy (which evaluated only the lower portion of the colon and the rectum). Having regular colonoscopies is the best way to find polyps and remove them in their early stages, before they have a chance to grow into cancer. In a few cases, large or inflamed polyps can cause bleeding which may appear in the stools.
Anyone can develop colon polyps, but people who have a family history of colon cancer or polyps, smokers, people with type 2 diabetes, men and women who are obese, and those 50 years of age and older tend to be at a greater risk for developing the growths. The CDC recommends men and women begin having colonoscopies every 10 years at age 50 to look for polyps and to be screened for colon cancer. People with a family history of colon cancer or other risk factors that increase their risk for colon cancer or polyps may need to be screened earlier and more often.
If a polyp is discovered during a colonoscopy or flexible sigmoidoscopy, it can be removed during the exam with special instruments used right through the scope. Once the polyp is removed, it’s sent to a lab for evaluation. Sometimes, patients may experience minor and temporary bleeding following a polyp removal, but it will resolve soon afterward.
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