Colon polyps refer to a medical condition in which a small group of cells develop on the lining of the colon or large intestine. However, most of the colon polyps are harmless but, in some cases, these could turn to colon cancer. Colon cancer, if diagnosed in the later stages, can prove fatal for the person. Colon polyps are also known as colorectal polyps and often do not cause any symptoms or pain. These are mostly detected via routine medical examinations.
Typically, there are two types of colon polyps:
- Non-neoplastic: This category of polyps often does not become cancerous and includes hyperplastic, inflammatory and hamartomatous polyps.
- Neoplastic: These are large polyps than are riskier to become cancerous eventually. These include adenomas and serrated types.
Even though any person can develop polyps, the risk is higher for a person in their 50s or older. Moreover, overweight people, smokers, or people with a family history of colon polyps can be more prone to this medical condition.
Symptoms of Colon Polyps
As specified, colon polyps do not show any symptoms or pain. These can only be diagnosed via a regular exam of the bowel. However, in some cases, where people experience symptoms, these include:
- Bleeding in the rectal
- Red streaks of blood in the stool or black-coloured stool
- An extreme change in bowel movements, including constipation, diarrhoea, that lasts for more than a week
- Abdominal pain caused because of a large polyp that obstructs the bowel
- Extreme deficiency of iron caused because of chronic bleeding from the polyps
However, when the patient experiences the below symptoms, immediate medical help must be sought:
- Abdominal pain
- Blood streaks in the stool
- A sudden change in bowel movements that have been consistent for a week
That said, some people are more prone to developing colon polyps and hence, must get themselves regularly screened to avoid complications. These include:
- People above the age of 50 years
- People with a family history of colon polyps or colon cancer. These people should begin their preventive screening before the age of 50.
Causes of Colon Polyps
In a normal human body, the cells grow and divide in a set manner. However, mutations can cause specific genes to continue dividing themselves, even when there are no requirements for new cells. Such a state in the colon or the rectum of a person can lead to the development of colon polyps. These polyps can develop anywhere in the large intestine.
That said, colon polyps alone are not a threatening issue. However, if these advance further to become cancerous, they can prove fatal, if not treated within time. Typically, the larger the size of the polyp, the greater is its chance to turn cancerous.
Risk Factors of Colon Polyps
The below factors can cause the development of colon polyps in some people:
- People over the age of 50 years
- People with an existing inflammatory intestinal condition, such as Crohn’s disease
- People that have a family history of colon polyps or colon cancer. These people typically include siblings, parents, etc.
- People that consume a lot of tobacco and alcohol
- Patients of Type-2 diabetes
- People that are obese or excessively overweight
- People of the African-American race are more prone to the issue
Moreover, patients with specific hereditary polyp disorder such as Lynch syndrome, Gardner’s syndrome, Serrated Polyposis syndrome, etc.
Complications of Colon Polyps
Even though the normal existence of colon polyps is not harmful. But these can intensify to cause colon cancer, if not treated within time.
Prevention of Colon Polyps
A person can greatly reduce the overall risk of colon polyps and related cancer through regular medical examinations and screenings. Moreover, a few lifestyle modifications can also help prevent colon polyps, such as:
- Limiting alcohol and tobacco intake
- Focusing on eating a healthy diet including fruits, vegetables, whole grains, etc.
- Ensuring to stay physically active and maintain a healthy body weight
- Maintain appropriate levels of calcium and Vitamin D
- Regular medical examinations to check for colon polyps or colon cancer, at later stages.
Diagnosis of Colon Polyps
Diagnosing colon polyps at the right time can prevent risk and complications. Screening tests, such as below, improve the chances of effective diagnosis.
- Virtual colonoscopy, also known as CT colonoscopy
- Flexible sigmoidoscopy
- Stool-based tests
Treatment of Colon Polyps
All polyps diagnosed during a bowel exam are generally removed by the doctor though methods such as below:
Polypectomy: This involves removing the polyps through forceps or a wire loop.In case the polyp is more than 0.4 inches in size, the doctor will inject a special liquid under the polyp to lift it and separate it from the nearby tissues, for easy removal.
Minor Surgery: A form of minimally invasive surgery can be used to effectively remove colon polyps.These are particularly those polyps that could not be removed during the screening or are too large. The doctor uses a laparoscope and inserts it into the bowel to remove the polyps.
Surgery: In rare cases, where the patient has an inherited syndrome, the doctor might need to perform surgery to remove the colon and the rectum altogether.
That said, the patient needs to do follow-up care, especially in case the type of polyps were adenomatous or serrated, which are more prone to become cancerous. In such a case, the doctor wills suggest some follow-up screenings:
- Every five to ten years in case there were two polyps
- Every three years in case there were more than two polyps of a specific large size
- Within three years for complicated cases with more than 10 polyps
- Within 6 months of the polyp removed was excessively large and hence, had to be removed in pieces.
Overall, regular medical check-ups can help avoid the development of normal colon polyps into cancerous ones.