Colon Polyps Diagnosis
According to the National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases, it’s estimated that between 15 to 40 percent of adults will develop colon polyps in their lifetime. Polyps, which are small clumps of abnormal cells that develop in the colon and rectum. However, even a benign colon polyp can progress into cancer at any time, and polyps and cancers, such as colon and colorectal, are common in those with a colon polyps diagnosis. Read on to learn more about colon polyps, types of polyps, and when to be screened.
What Are Colon Polyps?
Colon polyps are growths that develop over time in the inner lining of the colon (large intestine) or rectum. Polyps can have several different shapes, and there are several types of colon polyps. Very often, polyps have no noticeable signs or symptoms until they have progressed into cancer, which makes early detection of colon polyps essential. During certain types of screening tests, your gastroenterologist can remove polyps during the screening, lowering your risk of developing cancer.
Types of Colon Polyps
There are several types of colon polyps, however, polyps can be shaped differently. Sometimes their shape interferes with their easy removal. Colon polyps can be flat, raised slightly (known as sessile), or on a stalk (called sensile).
There are four main types of colon polyps:
- Adenomatous or tubular adenoma. Adenomatous polyps are the most common type of colon polyp, and they also are at risk of becoming cancerous.
- Hyperplastic. Hyperplastic polyps are small and common and carry a low risk of becoming cancerous. Still, if hyperplastic polyps are found, they will be removed and tested for cancer.
- Villous adenoma or tubulovillous adenoma. These types of polyps carry the highest risk of developing into cancer, and they also are difficult to remove because they are sensile.
- Pseudopolyps. These polyps do not carry a cancer risk and are different from the other polyp types. Psuedopolyps often result as a result of the inflammation caused by inflammatory bowel disease (IBD). They are also called inflammation polyps.
What Are the Signs & Symptoms of Colon Polyps?
Most people do not experience colon polyps symptoms until the polyps have progressed into cancer, or until the polyps are very large. Most often, a colon polyps diagnosis is given only after a screening test, such as a flexible sigmoidoscopy, which can remove many types of polyps during the test.
Some symptoms of having colon polyps include:
- Change in bowel habits. Sudden onset of constipation or diarrhea can indicate the presence of a larger polyp. However, this symptom is shared with many other gastrointestinal diseases.
- Rectal bleeding or blood in the stool. This is most often a sign of hemorrhoids, however, it can also be a sign of colon cancer. Blood in the stool can present as a black, tarry stool.
- Pain. You may have abdominal pain if you have a bowel obstruction related to a large polyp.
- Iron-deficiency anemia. Polyp bleeding can occur without it being noticeable on toilet paper or in the stool. When the body loses blood over a long period of time, it lowers your hemoglobin, which causes iron-deficiency anemia.
Colon Polyps Causes
Technically, a colon polyp is a result of genetic cells in the colon’s lining. There are some risk factors that you can control, such as lifestyle and diet, and factors that you cannot, such as a family history of colon cancer. Risk factors you can control include:
- Overuse of alcohol
- Living a sedentary lifestyle
- Lack of exercise
- Eating red meat and processed foods as a regular part of your diet
When it comes to factors you cannot control, these include:
- Having a history of colon polyps, colorectal polyps, or inflammatory bowel disease (IBD)
- Having a family history of colorectal cancer or colon polyps
- Being of African American heritage
- Having certain inherited genetic disorders, such as Lynch syndrome
If you suspect you may have colon polyps and you have a family history of them, you may be able to be screened earlier to receive a colon polyps diagnosis.
Treatment of Colon Polyps
In order to be treated for colon polyps, you first need a colon polyps diagnosis. The recommendation is to have your first colonoscopy (screening) at age 45 for both men and women. If benign polyps are found during colonoscopy, the physician can remove them with the colonoscope. They may also take a biopsy.
Other ways to receive a colon polyps diagnosis include:
- Virtual colonoscopy (CT colonography). This requires the same bowel prep as colonoscopy, but instead, a CT scan is performed to examine your colon.
- Fecal occult blood test. This test can look for blood in the stool and can also examine the DNA in your stool to detect polyps or cancer.
- Flexible sigmoidoscopy. This procedure is similar to that of colonoscopy but examines only the sigmoid (lower) portion of the colon and the rectum.
- Barium enema. This test is successful at detecting polyps and colorectal cancer, as well as diverticulitis.
If the tests find you do have colon polyps and the polyps can not be removed during a screening, treatment includes:
- Polypectomy. The polyp is removed with a wire loop or forceps.
- Surgery. Minimally invasive laparoscopic surgery can remove large polyps.
- Complete colon and rectum removal (total proctocolectomy). This is most common in those with inherited diseases.
If cancer is found, you will be referred to an oncologist for cancer treatment.
When Do I Need Medical Attention?
You should consult your gastroenterologist immediately if you have severe abdominal pain, blood in the stool, or changes in bowel habits that persist (a week or more).
You should be screened for polyps and colorectal cancer if you are age 45 or over, or younger if you meet the criteria for certain risk factors.