According to the Mayo Clinic, a colon polyp is a small cluster of cells that develop on the lining of the colon. Colon polyps can vary in size and shape and are frequently harmless. However, the vast majority of colon cancers start out as benign polyps. People age 50 and older are at an increased risk of colon polyps. Colonoscopy is regarded as the best means for detecting colon polyps. Once identified, they can be safely removed.
Types of Polyps
The National Cancer Institute says most colon polyps are defined as adenomatous. While only a small number of these harmless polyps become cancerous, the vast majority of cancerous polyps are adenomatous.
Most of the other colon and rectal polyps are called hyperplastic. These usually tiny polyps most frequently develop in your left colon and rectum. They are hardly ever malignant.
Colon polyps do not always cause any symptoms but regular screenings such as a colonoscopy can catch polyps in the early precancerous stages and be safely removed.
The University of Maryland Medical Center says some people with polyps may have rectal bleeding, bloody stools and, in rare cases, abdominal pain.
According to the Mayo Clinic a colonoscopy is the most sensitive test available for detecting colorectal (colon and rectal) polyps and colorectal cancer.
In preparation for the exam your doctor will inform you of any diet restrictions and any laxatives that may be taken to cleanse your bowel. Prior to a colonoscopy you will most likely be given a mild sedative to ease any discomfort.
Your doctor will use a colonoscope (a long, thin tube connected to a video camera and monitor) to observe your entire colon and rectum.
If polyps are detected during a colonoscopy they can usually be removed at the time of the procedure. Polyps can be strapped with a wire loop that also burns their stems to stop any bleeding. The NCI says in some cases bleeding and infection may occur.
Larger polyps may need to be removed through minimally invasive (laparoscopic) surgery. During the procedure, small incisions are made in your abdominal wall using delicate instruments that are attached to cameras that show your colon on a monitor.
Once removed, a pathologist will examine your polyps for signs of cancer. According to University of Maryland Medical Center, polyps bigger than one centimeter are more apt to become cancerous than smaller polyps.
Laparoscopic surgery may result in a faster and less painful recovery than conventional surgery. It often requires only one or two stitches to close.
Laparoscopic surgery is less traumatic to the body and often reduces the need for pain medication. Patients are generally able to resume normal activities relatively soon.
Once you’ve had polyps, there’s a fair chance of developing new polyps at some point in the future. That’s why follow-up care is very important.
Karen Hellesvig-Gaskell is a broadcast journalist who began writing professionally in 1980. Her writing focuses on parenting and health, and has appeared in “Spirituality & Health Magazine" and “Essential Wellness.” Hellesvig-Gaskell has worked with autistic children at the Fraser School in Minneapolis and as a child care assistant for toddlers and preschoolers at the International School of Minnesota, Eden Prairie.