Colon Polyps: What are they?

If you have ever had a colonoscopy or know someone who has, you may have heard of colon polyps. But what are they? Why is it important to get them removed?

What is a colon polyp?

Colon polyps are growths in the inner lining of the large intestine. They are made up of a small clump of cells and vary in size from less than a quarter inch to several inches in diameter.

Often times polyps start as harmless. However, polyps can be precancerous, which if not removed in time during a colonoscopy, will grow into cancer.

Who develops colon polyps and why?

According to the American Society for Gastrointestinal Endoscopy, more than 40% of people over 50 have precancerous polyps in their colon. Most often, age is the most significant risk factor for developing polyps, specifically being over 50 years old. Other risk factors include obesity, smoking, diabetes, family history, eating too much processed food and red meat, excess alcohol use and a history of inflammatory bowel disease (IBD).

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommends that regular screening for colorectal cancer begin at age 45 and continue to be tested at regular intervals. Some people may need to be screened earlier than 45 if there is a family history of colorectal cancer or colon polyps. A primary care physician can help to determine a patient’s risk and recommend screening at the proper time.

Do colon polyps have symptoms?

Colon polyps typically do not present with symptoms. It takes about five to 10 years for a polyp to develop into cancer, so it is important to get routine colonoscopies when eligible to prevent the risk of developing cancer.

Some people with colon polyps may experience rectal bleeding, a change in bowel habits, unexplained weight loss or abdominal pain. If any of these symptoms are present, it is important to seek evaluation by a physician to ensure no polyps or colorectal cancer is present.

Why should colon polyps be removed?

When a polyp is found during a colonoscopy, the physician can remove it and send it to be tested for cancer. The success rate of finding a polyp during a colonoscopy is about 95%. Colonoscopies are the only procedure that can remove polyps before they become cancer.