Colon polyps, also known as colorectal polyps, are small, commonly benign growths of tissue that form on the lining of the colon, otherwise known as the large intestine, which is a long, hollow tube at the bottom of the digestive tract.
Polyps may be a common occurrence and even increasingly so with progressing age. In most cases, these polyps could be harmless but over time they can turn cancerous, and can be fatal, if found in its later stages. While some polyps may appear as mushroom-shaped protrusions, some may appear as bumps that lie flat against the colon wall.
There are several types of polyps and these can be classified as either non-neoplastic polyps and neoplastic polyps. Non-neoplastic polyps aren’t typically cancerous and neoplastic polyps may have a greater risk of turning cancerous.
Doctors are yet to discover the exact causes of colon polyps, but there are instances in which people are either born with them or develop them during their lifetime. While the cause of colon polyps can be natural, there may also be a link between certain lifestyle factors and the formation of polyps.
People who are born with a genetic tendency to form polyps may develop them because new healthy cells are incapable of self-regulation. This means that new healthy cells grow and divide before they’re needed to replace old cells, causing excessive growth that could result in the formation of polyps.
In some people, the formation of colon polyps may be caused by certain lifestyle and behavioural factors. These include:
- A high-fat diet
- Overconsumption of red meat
- A lack of dietary fibre
- Being over the age of 50
- Having certain health conditions such as Type 2 diabetes or an inflammatory disease
People with colon polyps often don’t have symptoms and your doctor may notice them during a routine health checkup or when conducting a test for another disorder. It may be common for your doctor to recommend screening for colon polyps if you are a person at risk of developing them.
When colon polyps do cause symptoms, you may notice the following:
- Bleeding from the rectum: This may be the most common symptom of colon polyps. It’s important to rule colon polyps out in these instances as rectal bleeding could be a sign of a different condition such as haemorrhoids, tears in the anus or even cancer.
- Abdominal pain: Large polyps might partially block your bowels and cause abdominal cramps or pain.
- Change in colour of your stools: Bleeding caused by polyps may appear as red stripes in your stool. Also, heavier bleeding can make your stools appear black. You must be cautious as this symptom may also be a sign of another condition.
- Iron-deficiency anaemia: If your polyps cause slow bleeding over time, you may develop an iron deficiency that may result in weakness, pale skin, shortness of breath, lightheadedness or fainting.
- Change in bowel behaviour: Constipation or diarrhoea that lasts longer than a week.
The removal of colon polyps from the colon wall may be the recommended treatment option for you. Your doctor may also suggest certain lifestyle and behavioural changes for the prevention of additional polyps.
Doctors may remove polyps using the following methods:
- Colonoscopy: A process whereby a colonoscope, which is a thin, flexible tube with a camera at the end, is inserted into the body to remove polyps.
- Laparoscopy: Through a small incision in the abdomen or pelvis, a laparoscope is inserted and detected polyps are removed. This procedure may only be performed if you have rather large polyps in your colon.
- Removing the colon and rectum: This procedure is known as total proctocolectomy and may only be necessary if you have developed multiple polyps that cannot be removed by above methods or if there are more than one area of the colon with cancer.
Request more information on the causes, symptoms, and treatment for colon polyps
Since polyps don’t cause symptoms often, it’s important to have regular screening tests such as FOBT or colonoscopy before your polyps turn into cancer. This may reduce the likelihood of complications and give you enough time to remove it from your colon.