Colon Polyps

Polyps are lumps of extra tissue growing inside the body. Polyps can grow in the large intestine (colon). Most colon polyps are noncancerous (benign). However, some colon polyps can become cancerous over time. Polyps that are larger than a pea may be harmful. To be safe, caregivers remove and test all polyps.

CAUSES

Polyps form when mutations in the genes cause your cells to grow and divide even though no more tissue is needed.

RISK FACTORS

There are a number of risk factors that can increase your chances of getting colon polyps. They include:

  • Being older than 50 years.

  • Family history of colon polyps or colon cancer.

  • Long-term colon diseases, such as colitis or Crohn disease.

  • Being overweight.

  • Smoking.

  • Being inactive.

  • Drinking too much alcohol.

SYMPTOMS

Most small polyps do not cause symptoms. If symptoms are present, they may include:

  • Blood in the stool. The stool may look dark red or black.

  • Constipation or diarrhea that lasts longer than 1 week.

DIAGNOSIS

People often do not know they have polyps until their caregiver finds them during a regular checkup. Your caregiver can use 4 tests to check for polyps:

  • Digital rectal exam. The caregiver wears gloves and feels inside the rectum. This test would find polyps only in the rectum.

  • Barium enema. The caregiver puts a liquid called barium into your rectum before taking X-rays of your colon. Barium makes your colon look white. Polyps are dark, so they are easy to see in the X-ray pictures.

  • Sigmoidoscopy. A thin, flexible tube (sigmoidoscope) is placed into your rectum. The sigmoidoscope has a light and tiny camera in it. The caregiver uses the sigmoidoscope to look at the last third of your colon.

  • Colonoscopy. This test is like sigmoidoscopy, but the caregiver looks at the entire colon. This is the most common method for finding and removing polyps.

TREATMENT

Any polyps will be removed during a sigmoidoscopy or colonoscopy. The polyps are then tested for cancer.

PREVENTION

To help lower your risk of getting more colon polyps:

  • Eat plenty of fruits and vegetables. Avoid eating fatty foods.

  • Do not smoke.

  • Avoid drinking alcohol.

  • Exercise every day.

  • Lose weight if recommended by your caregiver.

  • Eat plenty of calcium and folate. Foods that are rich in calcium include milk, cheese, and broccoli. Foods that are rich in folate include chickpeas, kidney beans, and spinach.

HOME CARE INSTRUCTIONS

Keep all follow-up appointments as directed by your caregiver. You may need periodic exams to check for polyps.

SEEK MEDICAL CARE IF:

You notice bleeding during a bowel movement.