What are Colorectal Polyps?
Colorectal polyps are small masses of cells that form on the lining of the colon. While most polyps are harmless, some may develop into colon or rectal cancer over time. The best way to prevent colorectal cancer is to detect and remove colorectal polyps before they become advanced or cancerous.
Most people with colorectal polyps do not experience any symptoms. However, some people with colorectal polyps may experience the following:
- Change in the color of your stool
- Rectal bleeding
- Cramping or abdominal pain
- A change in bowel habits
- Iron deficiency anemia
While anyone can develop colorectal polyps, individuals who are over the age of 50, are overweight, are smokers or have a family history of colorectal polyps may be at a higher risk.
How are Colon Polyps Diagnosed?
There are two primary categories of polyps, including non-neoplastic and neoplastic. Non-neoplastic polyps typically do not become cancerous, while neoplastic polyps may become cancerous over time. In order to detect polyps before they become cancerous, there are screening tests that can be done. Screening methods may include:
This test involves going on a clear liquid diet and taking a laxative 1-3 days before to clean out the colon. During the procedure, a long, thin tube with a light and camera will be inserted into the colon to look for polyps. If any polyps are found, they will be removed (unless the polyp is too large) and sent to be checked at a lab. This procedure usually takes about 20-30 minutes to complete. Colonoscopy is the only preferred tier 1 and most accurate test to detect and remove colorectal polyps.
A flexible sigmoidoscopy is similar to a colonoscopy, but there is not as much bowel prep required. A thin tube with a light will be placed into the lower part of the colon and rectum to look for polyps. The test usually takes about 20 minutes.
These tests check for blood in the stool, or assess your stool DNA. Unfortunately, these tests are not very accurate to detect polyps, and can miss colon cancers. Also, if your stool test is positive a colonoscopy is recommended as the next step.
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Colorectal Polyp Treatment Options
If polyps are detected in the colon through a screening test, your doctor is likely to remove them. Options for removal may include:
Polypectomy: During a colonoscopy or flexible sigmoidoscopy, the polyps will be removed with forceps or a wire loop. If the polyps are too large to remove this way, surgery may be required. Once removed, the polyps will be sent to the lab to test for cancer.
Surgery: For individuals with a genetic condition such as familial adenomatous polyposis (FAP), your provider may recommend surgery to remove part of or all of the colon and rectum. This is the most effective solution when it comes to preventing colon cancer for those with these conditions.
Because colorectal polyps may return later on in life, intermittent screening tests are recommended.
Frequently Asked Questions About Colorectal Polyps
How common are colon polyps?
Polyps are very common, affecting about 2 in 4 adults. While most polyps are not harmful, some will eventually develop into cancer. Removing polyps via colonoscopy therefore prevents colorectal cancer by interrupting the natural history of cancer formation. and do not become cancerous. Still, there is a small risk of polyps developing into cancer and they should be checked regularly during a Routine colonoscopy screening at our Ridgeview Endoscopy Center, Castle Rock Endoscopy Center or South Denver Endoscopy Center is the best approach to detect and remove polyps and prevent colorectal cancer.
How many years does it take for a colon polyp to become cancerous?
Polyps are often slow growing and it can take several years for a polyp to become cancerous – as many as 10 years. With regular colonoscopy screenings at our endoscopy centers, the South Denver GI gastroenterologists can monitor for polyp development and remove them promptly while still in the benign or precancerous stages. Using this protocol, the survival rate of colorectal cancer detected at the localized stage is very high.
How often should you have a colonoscopy after finding polyps?
This can depend on your specific risk factors as well as the nature of any polyps found during your screening. The U.S. Preventive Services Task Force recommends colonoscopy screening every 10 years for adults 45-75 years old, but our experts may recommend more frequent screening if any concerns are found. Also if you have a family history of colorectal polyps or cancer, you may need to be screened earlier and more frequent. Your South Denver GI doctor can give you the best idea of when to return for your next screening at our Castle Rock Endoscopy Center, South Denver Endoscopy Center or Ridgeview Endoscopy Center.
What causes colon polyps?
The inside lining of the gastrointestinal tract regularly regenerates new cells. In some cases, a fast-growing cluster of cells may develop called a polyp. Some risk factors for polyps include smoking and alcohol use, family history, inflammatory bowel diseases, age and a lifestyle that includes low amounts of exercise and high fat intake.
Can a doctor tell if a polyp is cancerous during colonoscopy?
If your doctor observes any concerning polyps during a colonoscopy at our three Denver area endoscopy centers, they will be removed, or sampled if too large to be removed safely endoscopically. Generally your South Denver gastroenterologist will be able to explain in recovery if the polyps appear benign. unless polyps , a biopsy can be performed during the same procedure by removing some or all of the polyp. The tissue will then be assessed for any cancerous cells by our expert GI pathologists. You’ll receive your biopsy results from our pathology team within 1-2 weeks.
Where is the most common location for polyps?
Polyps can occur all throughout the gastrointestinal tract, but are most commonly found in the colon and rectum. They can develop into colorectal cancer and should be screened through a colonoscopy at our South Denver Endoscopy Center, Ridgeview Endoscopy Center or Castle Rock Endoscopy Center.
How do you prevent colon polyps from returning?
It’s still unclear what exactly causes polyps and how to prevent them, but you can reduce your risk factors by eating a fiber-rich diet, exercising regularly and avoiding alcohol and smoking. You can also reduce your risk of colorectal cancer by undergoing regular colonoscopy screening at our South Denver endoscopy centers.
Can polyps restrict bowel movements?
Some large or protruding polyps can impact bowel movements. If you notice a persistent change in your bowel habits (such as constipation or diarrhea), we recommend you schedule a consultation at our Lone Tree, Englewood, Parker or Castle Rock clinics to meet with our team of doctors. A colonoscopy screening at our Denver area endoscopy offices can confirm and remove any problematic polyps.
How worried should I be about colon polyps?
The majority of colon polyps do not become cancerous and can simply be removed or monitored during a colonoscopy screening at our Ridgeview, Castle Rock and South Denver endoscopy centers. Undergoing regular colonoscopy screening is the best way to ensure any concerning or precancerous polyps can be treated promptly by our experts.
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At South Denver GI, our team of physicians and advanced practice providers have the expertise to provide you with outstanding care. If you would like to learn more about Colorectal Polyps or need to schedule an appointment at our office, contact us today!
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