Intestinal Polyps

What are Intestinal Polyps?

Polyps are benign growths (noncancerous tumors or neoplasms) on the lining of the bowel. They are found in several locations of the gastrointestinal tract, but are most common in the colon.

Polyps can range from less than a quarter of an inch to several inches in diameter. They can grow on a “stalk” and look like mushrooms, or they can be flat.

Most polyps are harmless, but some can contain small portions of cancer.

There are two common types of polyps: hyperplastic and adenoma. Adenomas are thought to be the precursor for almost all cases of colon cancer. Most hyperplastic polyps never become cancerous, but it’s impossible for your doctor to know for sure without removing it and examining it.

Colon polyps are usually not associated with symptoms. When they occur symptoms can include:

  • Bleeding from the anus
  • Blood in stools
  • Abdominal pain
  • Mucous discharge
  • Change in bowel movements
  • Constipation or diarrhea

Polyps are very common in adults, and become more common as we age.

It’s 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 develop polyps as well.

The biggest risk factors in developing polyps are:

  • Being 50 and older
  • A family history of intestinal polyps
  • A personal history of intestinal polyps

Most polyps cause no symptoms, making them hard to diagnose. Larger polyps can cause blood in the stool, but even they are usually hard to detect.

The best way to detect intestinal polyps is by performing regular screenings of individuals without symptoms.

Screening techniques include:

  • Testing stool specimens for traces of blood
  • Sigmoidoscopy
  • Barium enema
  • CT colonography

Many doctors now recommend a colonoscopy as a screening method because any polyps found can also be removed during the procedure.

If your doctor finds polyps, they will recommend a colonoscopy to remove them. There are various removal techniques for intestinal polyps. Techniques include:

  • Removal with a wire loop
  • Electrocautery or burning with an electric current
  • Removal with biopsy forceps

Some polyps may require surgical removal, also known as polypectomy.

If a large or unusual looking polyp is removed or left for surgical management, your doctor may mark the site by injecting a small amount of sterile ink into the lining of the bowel.

After the procedure, your doctor will test any polyps removed for cancerous tissue. Your doctor may also recommend a follow up colonoscopy within the next 3-5 years, or within a few months if any polyps removed were large and flat.

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