Colon polyps have been found to increase the risk of colon cancer. A colon polyp is a small clump of cells that form in the lining of the colon. The majority of the time colon polyps are harmless, but sometimes they can signal a more serious condition, such as colon cancer.
Colon polyps can develop at any age but are most commonly found in those that are 50 years old or older. Even if colon polyps do not cause any symptoms, it’s still important to monitor them because during their early stage they can be safely removed.
There are three types of colon polyps: adenomatous, serrated and inflammatory. Adenomatous colon polyps are the most common form, occurring in two-thirds of cases. The risk of them becoming cancerous is slim but still possible.
Serrated colon polyps have a higher likelihood of being cancerous. If found in the lower portion of the colon, their risk of being cancerous increases. Lastly, inflammatory colon polyps may occur due to another condition, such as colitis or Crohn’s disease. Having conditions like Crohn’s or colitis increase the risk of colon cancer more than inflammatory polyps does.
Colon polyps causes and risk factors
A colon polyp is caused by mutations in genes that cause cells to grow and divide abnormally. Cells may continue to grow, even though they are not needed. The continuous growth of cells leads to the formation of clusters, which cause polyps.
There are certain factors that can increase a person’s risk of developing colon polyps, including:
- Inflammatory intestinal conditions
- Family history of colon polyps
- Tobacco and alcohol use
- Lack of exercise
- Race – African-Americans have higher rates of colon polyps
- Uncontrolled type 2 diabetes
Colon polyps symptoms
Colon polyps are often symptomless, and you may not discover you have them unless a doctor finds them during an examination. But when colon polyps do show symptoms, they can include:
- Rectal bleeding
- Changes in stool color
- Changes in bowel habits
- Pain, nausea or vomiting
- Iron deficiency, anemia
If you experience abdominal pain or blood in your stool and your changes in bathroom habits last longer than a week, you should see your doctor right away.
Colon polyps treatment
Removal of colon polyps will occur during a bowel exam. Many colon polyps can easily be removed with biopsy forceps or a wire loop. If the polyp is too large and cannot be removed during screening, another minimally invasive surgery can be conducted so the doctor can safely remove the polyp. Lastly, if a patient has a rare condition like FAP, the whole colon and rectum may be removed – this is known as a total proctocolectomy.
During the follow-up period of polyp removal your doctor may recommend colonoscopies to ensure polyps have not returned. Risk factors, history and severity of the original polyps will determine how frequent screening will need to be.
Colon polyp prevention
You can reduce your risk of developing colon polyps by following these prevention tips.
- Consume fruits, vegetables and whole grains.
- Reduce fat intake.
- Limit alcohol consumption.
- Don’t smoke.
- Stay physically active.
- Maintain a healthy body weight.
- Talk to your doctor about calcium – research has shown increasing calcium prevents colon polyps, but do not embark on calcium supplementation without the approval of your doctor.
- Know your risk and speak with your doctor about screening and personalized prevention options.
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