Polyps are growths involving the lining of the bowel. They can occur in several locations in the gastrointestinal tract but are most common in the colon. They vary in size from less than a quarter of an inch to several inches in diameter. They look like small bumps growing from the lining of the bowel and protruding into the lumen (bowel cavity). They sometimes grow on a stalk and look like mushrooms. Many patients have several polyps scattered in different parts of the colon.
How Common Are Colon Polyps?
Polyps are very common in adults who have an increased chance of acquiring them as they age. While quite rare in 20-year olds, it is estimated that the average 60-year-old without special risk factors for polyps 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 predisposition to polyp formation. There may be a genetic risk to the development of polyps as well
What Are Known Risks For Developing polyps?
The biggest risk factor for developing polyps is being older than 50 years of age. A family history of colon polyps and colon cancer increases the risk of polyps. Patients with a personal history of polyps are at risk of developing new polyps. In addition, there are some rare cancerous polyp syndrome that run in families and increase the risk developing these polyps at a younger age.
Are There Different Types of polyps?
There are two common types- hyperplastic polyps and adenoma. The hyperplastic polyp is not at risk for cancer and is not as clinically significant. The adenoma, however, is thought to be the precursor or the origin for almost all colon cancers. Although most adenomas never become cancers, a biopsy-a small piece of removed tissue, is the only way to differentiate between hyperplastic and adenomatous polyps. Although it is impossible to tell which adenomatous polyps will become cancers, larger polyps are more likely to become cancers and some of the largest ones, those larger than 1 inch, can already contain small areas of cancer. Because doctors cannot be certain of the tissue type based on the polyp’s appearance, they generally recommend removing all but the smallest polyps
How Are Polyps Found?
Most polyps cause no symptoms. Larger polyps can cause blood in the stools, but even they are usually asymptomatic. Therefore the best way to detect polyps is by screening individuals with no symptoms by performing a colonoscopy at age 50 years or sooner if there is a family history of colon cancer or colon polyps. Several other screening techniques are available- testing stool specimens for traces of blood, performing sigmoidoscopy to look into the lower third of the colon or using radiology test such as a barium Enema. If one of these tests finds or suspects polyps, your doctor will qenerally recommend colonoscopy to remove them. Because colonoscopy is the most accurate way to detect polyps, experts now recommend colonoscopy as a preferred screening method so that any polyps found or suspected can be removed during the same procedure