Polyps of the colon (large intestine polyps)

Abdomen | Gastroenterology | Polyps of the colon (large intestine polyps) (Disease)


Colon polyps are fleshy growths that occur on the inside (the lining) of the large intestine, also known as the colon. Polyps in the colon are extremely common, and their incidence increases as individuals get older.

It is estimated that 50% of the people over the age of 60 will harbor at least one polyp. The significance of polyps is that we know that when certain types of polyps grow large enough, they can become cancerous.

Causes and Risk factors

The majority of polyps arent cancerous (malignant). Yet like most cancers, polyps are the result of abnormal cell growth. Healthy cells grow and divide in an orderly way - a process thats controlled by two broad groups of genes. Mutations in any of these genes can cause cells to continue dividing even when new cells arent needed. In the colon and rectum, this unregulated growth can cause polyps to form. Over a long period of time, some of these polyps may become malignant.

Diagnosis and Treatment

Starting at the age of 40, everyone should have a stool specimen tested for occult blood (blood that cannot be seen with the naked eye) every year. This is recommended because it is known that when polyps become large they can bleed into the intestine where the blood mixes with the stool. Thus, an early warning sign for colon polyps could be the presence of occult blood in the stool. Starting at the age of 50, everyone should have a flexible sigmoidoscopy every 3-5 years.

The great majority of polyps can be removed during colonoscopy or sigmoidoscopy by snaring them with a wire loop that simultaneously cuts the stalk of the polyp and cauterizes it to prevent bleeding. Polyps that are too large to snare or that cant be reached safely are usually surgically removed — often using laparoscopic techniques. ...

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