Monday, February 11, 2013
Article # 270. What are colon polyps?
What are colon polyps?
Colon polyps are growths in your large intestine (colon) . The cause of most colon polyps is not known, but they are common in adults.
Most colon polyps are not cancer. But some growths can turn into colon cancer. If a colon polyp is the kind that can turn into cancer, it usually takes many years for that to happen.
People over 50 are more likely than younger people to get colon cancer. Experts recommend routine colon cancer testing for everyone age 50 and older who has a normal risk for colon cancer. People with a higher risk, such as African Americans and people with a strong family history of colon cancer, may need to be tested sooner. Talk to your doctor about when you should be tested. Finding and removing colon polyps can prevent colon cancer.
What are the symptoms?
You can have colon polyps and not know it because they usually don't cause symptoms. They are usually found during routine screening tests for colon cancer. A screening test looks for signs of a disease when there are no symptoms.
If polyps get large, they can cause symptoms. You may have bleeding from your rectum or a change in your bowel habits. A change in bowel habits includes diarrhea, constipation, going to the bathroom more often or less often than usual, or a change in the way your stool looks.
You might not even know you have a polyp until your doctor finds it during an examination of your bowel. Sometimes, however, you may have signs and symptoms such as:
· Rectal bleeding. You might notice bright red blood on toilet paper after you've had a bowel movement. Although this may be a sign of colon polyps or colon cancer, rectal bleeding can indicate other conditions, such as hemorrhoids or minor tears (fissures) in your anus. You should discuss any rectal bleeding with your doctor.
· Blood in your stool. Blood can show up as red streaks in your stool or make bowel movements appear black. Still, a change in color doesn't always indicate a problem — iron supplements and some anti-diarrhea medications can make stools black, whereas beets and red licorice can turn stools red. Always discuss any rectal bleeding with your doctor.
· Constipation, diarrhea or narrowing of the stool. Although a change in bowel habits that lasts longer than a week may indicate the presence of a large colon polyp, it can also result from a number of other conditions.
· Pain or obstruction. Sometimes a large colon polyp may partially obstruct your bowel, leading to crampy abdominal pain, nausea, vomiting and severe constipation.
How are colon polyps diagnosed?
Most polyps are found during tests for colon cancer. Experts recommend routine colon cancer testing for everyone age 50 and older who has a normal risk for colon cancer. People with a higher risk, such as African Americans and people with a strong family history of colon cancer, may need to be tested sooner. The tests for colon cancer are:
· Stool tests. In a fecal occult blood test (FOBT), a fecal immunochemical test (FIT), and a stool DNA test (sDNA), stool samples are checked for signs of cancer.
· Colonoscopy. In this test, the doctor inserts a small viewing tube all the way into your colon and looks for polyps. The doctor can also take out any polyps he or she finds.
· Flexible sigmoidoscopy. This test is like a colonoscopy, except that the viewing tube is shorter so the doctor can only look at the last part of your colon. Doctors can remove polyps during this test.
· Computed tomographic colonography (CTC). This test is also called a virtual colonoscopy. A computer and X-rays make a detailed picture of the colon to help the doctor look for polyps.
Doctors often recommend colonoscopy because it lets them look at the whole colon and remove any polyps they find. If polyps are found during another type of test, you may still need colonoscopy so the doctor can remove the polyps.
What increases my risk of getting colon polyps?
Colon Polyps - Topic Overview
You are more likely to have colon polyps if:
· You are over 50.
· Colon polyps or colon cancer runs in your family.
· You inherited a certain gene that causes you to develop polyps. People with this gene are much more likely than others to get the kind of polyps that turn into colon cancer.
How are they treated?
Doctors usually remove colon polyps because some of them can turn into colon cancer. Most polyps are removed during a colonoscopy. You may need to have surgery if you have a large polyp.
Once you have had polyps, you have a higher chance of developing new polyps. If you have had polyps removed, it is important to have follow-up testing to look for more polyps. Talk to your doctor about how often you need to be tested.
When to see a doctor
See your doctor if you notice the following signs and symptoms:
· Abdominal pain
· Blood in your stool
· A change in your bowel habits that lasts longer than a week
You should be screened regularly for polyps if:
· You're age 50 or older
· You have risk factors, such as a family history of colon cancer — in some cases, high-risk individuals should begin regular screening much earlier than age 50