What is colon polyps?

Colon Polyps

Colon polyps: Overview

Colon polyps are growths in the colon or the rectum. The cause of most colon polyps is not known, and most people who get them do not have any problems. But a certain kind can turn into cancer. For this reason, regular testing for colon polyps is important for people as they get older. It is also important for anyone who has an increased risk for colon cancer.

Polyps are usually found through routine colon cancer screening tests. Although most colon polyps are not cancerous, they are usually removed and then tested for cancer. Screening for colon cancer saves lives because the cancer can usually be cured if it is caught early.

If you have a polyp that is the type that can turn into cancer, you may need more tests to examine your entire colon. The doctor will remove any other polyps that are found, and you will be tested more often.

Colon polyps

Colon polyps are growths in your colon, or large intestine. Some types can turn into colon cancer, but it usually takes many years for that to happen.

Finding these polyps early may help prevent cancer or find it at a stage when treatment is most likely to be successful.

What are the symptoms of colon polyps?

You can have colon polyps and not know it, because they usually don't cause symptoms. They are usually found during routine screening tests for colorectal cancer. If polyps get large, they can cause symptoms. You may have bleeding from your rectum or a change in your bowel habits.

Types of Colon Polyps

Colon polyps visible with a sigmoidoscope

Photo credit: Jacqueline Littée, RN. Adapted with permission. All rights reserved.

A polyp is a small growth of excess tissue that often grows on a stem or stalk on the inner surface of the large intestine (colon). Most polyps do not contain cancer cells. But some polyps can become cancerous over time.

How are colon polyps treated?

Doctors often remove colon polyps, because some of them can turn into colorectal cancer. Most polyps are removed during a colonoscopy. You may need to have surgery if you have a large polyp.

After removal, polyps are checked to find out if they are the kind that could become cancer. If cancer is found when the colon polyps are checked, you will begin treatment for colorectal cancer.

For some types of polyps, the bigger a colon polyp is the more likely it is that the polyp will contain cancer cells. After you have had polyps, you have a higher chance of developing new polyps. If you have had polyps removed, it is important to have follow-up tests to look for more polyps. Talk to your doctor about how often you need to be tested.

How are colon polyps diagnosed?

Most polyps are found during tests for colorectal cancer. The tests for colorectal cancer include stool tests that can be done at home and procedures, such as a colonoscopy, that are done at your doctor's office or clinic.

How can you care for yourself when you have colon polyps?

You can't prevent colon polyps. You may help lower your risk for cancer by staying at a healthy weight, being active, and eating vegetables, fruits, legumes, fish, poultry, and whole grains. Do not smoke. And limit alcohol. Regular exams are the best way to check for polyps and lower your risk for cancer.

Colon Polyps

Colon polyps and the location of the colon

Colon polyps are growths in the colon or rectum. The cause of most colon polyps is not known.

Most polyps do not cause symptoms. But large polyps are more likely than small polyps to cause symptoms such as rectal bleeding.

Some polyps are attached to the wall of the colon or rectum by a stalk or stem (pedunculated). Some have a broad base with little or no stalk (sessile).

What increases your risk of getting colon polyps?

You are more likely to have colon polyps if you:

  • Are older. Risk increases with age.
  • Have people in your family with colon polyps or colorectal cancer.
  • Inherit a certain gene that causes you to develop polyps. People with this gene are much more likely than others to get the kind of polyps that turn into colorectal cancer.
  • Are obese.

Colon polyps: Fast facts

Colon polyps: When to call

Call your doctor now or seek immediate medical care if:

  • You have severe belly pain.
  • Your stools are maroon or very bloody.

Watch closely for changes in your health, and be sure to contact your doctor if:

  • You have a fever.
  • You have nausea or vomiting.
  • You have a change in bowel habits (new constipation or diarrhea).
  • Your symptoms get worse or are not improving as expected.

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The content above contains general health information provided by Healthwise, Incorporated, and reviewed by its medical experts. This content should not replace the advice of your healthcare provider. Not all treatments or services described are offered as services by us. For recommended treatments, please consult your healthcare provider.