Colon & Rectal Polyps

What Are Polyps?

Polyps are abnormal growths arising from the lining of the large intestine (colon and rectum). Some polyps are flat; others have stalks. The cause of polyps is unknown.

Polyps are one of the most common conditions affecting the colon and rectum. They occur in 15 to 20 percent of the adult population. Although most polyps are benign, most colon cancer starts in benign polyps. Some polyps are the precursors of colon cancer.

What Are The Symptoms Of Polyps?

Most polyps produce no symptoms and are found only during routine examination of the bowel. Some polyps, however, can produce bleeding, mucous discharge, change in bowel habits, or, in rare cases, abdominal pain.

How Are Polyps Diagnosed?

Polyps are diagnosed by either directly looking at the colon lining through an endoscope (an instrument used to examine the lining of the intestine) or indirectly by x-ray. If an x-ray is taken, it is preceded by a barium enema to coat the colon lining. There are three types of direct colorectal examination:

  • Rigid sigmoidoscopy--used to examine the lower six to eight inches of the large intestine.
  • Flexible sigmoidoscopy--used to examine the lower one-fourth to one-third of the colon.
  • Colonoscopy--used to examine the entire colon. This exam requires a complete bowel preparation and sedation.

If a polyp is found during a sigmoidoscopy, the patient will need a colonoscopy to have the polyp removed and to examine the rest of the colon. At least a 30 percent of patients with a polyp on sigmoidoscopy have additional polyps found at colonoscopy.

Although checking the stool for occult (microscopic) blood is a frequently performed test for colon and rectal disorders, a negative test does NOT rule out the presence of a polyp or a cancer.

Do Polyps Need To Be Treated?

All polyps should be removed since there is no foolproof way of predicting whether or not a polyp is or will become a cancer. The vast majority of polyps can be removed painlessly by snaring them with a wire loop passed through the colonoscope. Small polyps can be destroyed simply by touching them with a coagulating electrical current.

Most colonoscopies and resultant polyp removal can be done with minimal discomfort on an outpatient basis at our Surgery Center. Large polyps may require more than one treatment for complete removal. Some polyps cannot be removed using the endoscope because of their size or position; surgery is then required. All polyps are examined under the microscope to detect any evidence of cancer. Your doctor will notify you of your biopsy results and recommend follow-up, depending on the number of polyps found and your family history.

Can Polyps Recur?

Once a polyp is completely removed, it rarely reappears in the same place. However, the conditions favorable to polyp growth are still present and can lead to the growth of new polyps. In fact, almost a third of those people who had polyps will develop new polyps. Patients need to have regular follow-up examinations. For patients with a history of polyps, colonoscopies are usually recommended about every three to five years.

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