Colon polyps are benign growths of the lining of the bowel. They look like small bumps and sometimes grow on a “stalk” which look like a mushroom.
Polyps are very common in adults, who have an increased chance of acquiring them as they age. It’s estimated that the average 60 year old has a 25 percent chance of having a polyp.
We don’t know what causes polyps. Some experts believe a high-fat, low-fiber diet can be a factor, and there may be a genetic risk as well.
The biggest risk factor for developing polyps is being older than 50. A family history of colon polyps or colon cancer increases the risk of polyps.
There are two common types of polyps: hyperplastic and adenoma.
The hyperplastic polyp is not at risk for cancer and, therefore, is not as significant. The adenoma, however is thought to be the precursor for almost all colon cancers, although, most adenomas never become cancer. It is impossible to tell which adenomatous polyps will become cancer and it is recommended that all polyps be removed.
Most polyps cause no symptoms. Therefore, the best way to detect polyps is by screening individuals with no symptoms. Colonoscopy is the most accurate way to detect and remove polyps found. Most polyps found during a colonoscopy can be completely removed during the procedure by severing them with a wire loop and/or burning the polyp with an electric current. The bowel’s lining isn’t sensitive to cutting or burning, so there is no discomfort. The polyps are then examined under the microscope to determine the tissue type and to detect any cancer.
Polyp removal during colonoscopy is a routine outpatient procedure.
Possible complications, which are uncommon, include bleeding from the site and perforation (a hole) of the colon.
If you have polyps removed your doctor will decide when your next colonoscopy is necessary.