Colon polyps are growths inside the large intestine, also known as the colon. Polyps can take several forms, and they are often a prelude to colon cancer if left untreated. Since colon cancer is one of the most common cancers, encompassing 15% of all cancer diagnoses, it's important to be aware of what polyps are, how they are detected, and what their presence means.
Types of Polyps
Polyps can occur anywhere along the length of the large intestine. Polyps can be either raised or flat. Flat polyps are harder to detect, and they are also more likely to become cancerous.
The majority of people with colon polyps have no symptoms, which is one reason why routine screening is so important. However, some people have symptoms that can include:
- Rectal bleeding
- Blood in the stool, which can turn the stool black or look like red streaks
- New/recent changes in bowel habits
- Constipation for longer than a week
- Diarrhea for longer than a week
What Does it Mean?
If you are diagnosed with a colon polyp, it does not mean that you have cancer. Some polyps are benign, and many are pre-cancerous, while some already are cancerous. Because of the potential for polyps to become colon cancer, it's important to screen for polyps routinely during a colonoscopy. Diagnostic tools like a barium enema may also be used for diagnosis, but you will need a colonoscopy to remove any polyps found by barium enema or other tests.
The treatment for colon polyps is not intensive, and the outlook is very good. Most polyps can actually be removed while your colonoscopy is being performed, preventing the need to go through the procedure twice. After a polyp is removed, your doctor will test it for cancer.
Not all people need to get routine colonoscopies. The decision to screen is based on risk factors. If you meet one of the following, you should receive routine colonoscopies:
- Over age 50
- Family history of colon cancer
- Personal history of polyps
- Personal history of ovarian or uterine cancer before age 50
Although you cannot control a predisposition towards polyps, anyone can take steps towards prevention. Lifestyle factors play a considerable role in your risk of developing polyps or colon cancer. A diet high in fresh fruits and vegetables and low in red meat is best for your colon health. Risk factors include:
- High-fat diet
- Lack of exercise
- Heavy alcohol use
By being aware of risk factors for polyps and how to screen for them, you can help prevent them from developing and ensure that they are caught early on, in many cases before they are able to cause symptoms or develop into cancer.
By doing your colonoscopy and removing precancerous polyps, you have a better chance of preventing colon cancer.
If you would like to schedule a colonoscopy or learn more about preventative bowel health, please contact one of the doctors at Gastroenterology Associates at (225) 927-1190.
Disclaimer: All information provided in this article is for informational purposes only and should not replace the consultative advice and experienced feedback from your physician. Always consult with your physicians on any of your questions and concerns.