Colon polyps are harmless when they first appear, but then they start to grow abnormally over the years, ultimately causing more than 95% of all colon cancers. The experienced team at Digestive & Liver Health Specialists performs colonoscopies to screen for colon polyps and to remove polyps before cancer begins.
What are colon polyps?
A colon polyp is an overgrowth of cells that occurs on the inside wall of your large intestine (colon). Polyps are benign (noncancerous) tumors when they first develop. But over time, they start to grow abnormally and turn into colon cancer.
Your risk of developing colon cancer increases as you get older because polyps are slow-growing tumors. It can take a decade for a small polyp to appear, and then it takes many more years for it to become malignant.
What symptoms develop due to colon polyps?
Colon polyps usually don’t cause symptoms. You won’t start to experience symptoms until they become cancerous. At that stage, you may have problems such as:
- Changes in bowel habits
- Painless rectal bleeding
- Diarrhea or constipation
- Black, tarry stools
- Abdominal cramps
- Mucus discharge with stools
- Fatigue (due to anemia)
You may also have occult blood in your stool, but it’s invisible because there’s such a small amount.
How are colon polyps diagnosed?
Your doctor at Digestive & Liver Health Specialists may detect abnormalities in your rectal lining during a digital rectal exam.
To find potential polyps in the large intestine, however, your doctor may recommend a fecal occult blood test or a lower GI series, which uses a barium enema and X-rays to detect polyps.
The most accurate procedures for detecting and removing polyps are a sigmoidoscopy or colonoscopy.
Both procedures use a narrow scope containing a camera to examine the intestinal lining, but a sigmoidoscopy is done to evaluate your rectum and sigmoid colon, while a colonoscopy examines the entire large intestine.
How are colon polyps treated?
Colon polyps are easily removed during a sigmoidoscopy or colonoscopy. Your doctor at Digestive & Liver Health Specialists inserts a surgical tool through the scope and uses specialized tools such as an electrical wire loop to remove the polyp.
During a colonoscopy, your doctor threads the narrow, flexible colonoscope through your large intestine, visually examining the tissues along the way.
Once the scope reaches your small intestine, your doctor slowly withdraws it, removing polyps as well as abnormal or inflamed tissues.
All of the tissues are sent to a lab where they’re examined under a microscope by a surgical pathologist. The pathologist determines if the polyps are cancerous and whether all the cancer was removed.
When should I schedule a colon polyp screening?
Women and men should have their first screening around the age of 45-50, depending on their risk factors for colon cancer. Your provider at Digestive & Liver Health Specialists can evaluate your risk factors and recommend how often you should be screened.