What are they?

Colon polyps are growths found on the lining of your large intestine also known as the colon.

Are they harmful?

Most of the growths are not harmful, but over time there is a possibility some of them may turn into colon cancer.

What is the cause of colon polyps?

It is unknown what causes colon polyps to form, but scientists have discovered that polyps show up when healthy cells multiply at a faster than normal rate.

Two types of polyps

Hyperplastic polyps are unlikely to turn into cancer.

Adenoma polyps are likely to turn into cancer, though not all adenomas are harmful. Adenomas are further divided into 4 types – tubular, villous, sessile, serrated.

Generally speaking, the larger the adenoma, the higher the chance of it turning into cancer.

Who gets them?

Everyone is susceptible to colon polyps, but there are certain issues that make you at higher risk to have them. Chances of getting colon polyps are higher if you:

  • have and do not control type 2 diabetes well
  • have an IBD (inflammatory bowel disease), e.g., colitis or Crohn’s disease
  • smoke
  • have reached 50 years or older
  • are overweight
  • suffered from colon cancer previously

Genetic conditions

People with certain genetic conditions have an increased chance to get colon polyps and colon cancer. Some of the genetic conditions are:

  • Familial adenomatous polyposis (FAP) – this is a condition that causes polyps to multiply at an extremely high rate when you are young, i.e., in your teens.
  • Gardner’s Syndrome – a strain of FAP that causes polyps to grow in your colon and small intestine. Sometimes non-cancerous tumours can appear in other parts of your body as well.
  • MYH-associated polyposis (MAP – a defect with the MYH gene causes colon polyps to grow into colon cancer at a young age.
  • Lynch syndrome – is also known as hereditary (genetically transmitted) nonpolyposis colorectal cancer, which has a high chance to causes polyps to grow into colon cancer.
  • Serrated polyposis syndrome – a specific polyp called serrated adenomatous polyp, grows in the upper part of the colon which may eventually turn into colon cancer
  • Peutz-Jeghers syndrome – displays rather unusual symptoms as it starts with freckles appearing all over the body. It also causes colon polyps that have a high chance of becoming colon cancer.

Your medical practitioner will check your symptoms and family history before recommending screening tests.

Common symptoms to look out for

Colon polyps are normally found through medical tests. However, if you show the following symptoms, there is a possibility you may have colon polyps:

  • Belly ache with either diarrhoea or constipation lasting longer than a week.
  • Blood in your poop that could indicate bleeding in the colon.
  • Poop that is blackish or has red streaks which again could indicate bleeding in the colon.
  • Fatigue is an indication of lack of iron which happens when polyps bleed.

Medical tests for colon polyps

There are a few tests to find evidence of colon polyps, and some have procedures that can remove the polyps during the tests.

CT colonography – a non-invasive way using x-rays and a computer to take pictures of your colon. Polyps cannot be removed during this test.

Stool test – your doctor will check your poop for blood, and if he does find any, you will need a colonoscopy.

Colonoscopy – a thin flexible tube with a light and camera is inserted into your rectum to have an internal look in your colon. Polyps that are found can be removed and sent to the lab for analysis.

Flexible sigmoidoscopy – fairly similar to a colonoscopy, a thin tube with a light is inserted into your rectum to view the lower part of your colon. If a polyp is found, it can be removed during the procedure.

Lower gastrointestinal series – you drink a barium liquid which makes it easier during an x-ray to detect polyps.

Treatment for colon polyps

During a colonoscopy or flexible sigmoidoscopy, the doctor will do a polypectomy which is where either forceps or a wire loop is used for polyp removal. However, surgery would be required if the polyp is too large.

Doctors will suggest surgery to remove part of all of the colon and rectum depending on the condition of patients having FAP (genetic).

If colon polyps are found, there is a good chance of recurrence after the initial removal. Here is where your doctor will recommend a schedule for screening tests to monitor your condition.

Can colon polyps be prevented?

The answer is no; but a healthy lifestyle can reduce your chances of getting colon polyps. Here are some general suggestions:

  • Maintain a healthy weight.
  • Cut back on red meat, processed meats, and fatty foods.
  • Consume more fruits, vegetables and fibre rich foods and cereals.
  • Check with your doctor on taking aspirin or calcium and vitamin D supplements.
  • If you have FAP, ask your doctor to set up a screening schedule.

As usual, do consult your medical practitioner for medical advice if you feel you have initial signs of colon polyps, especially if you have any underlying medical condition. Please note this article only gives a general outline of colon polyps.

By Aaron
4th June 19:30

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