A polyp is an abnormal growth of cells that form within the lining of the large intestine, also known as the colon or rectum. According the American Society of Colon and Rectal Surgeons, polyps are a common condition affecting roughly 15 to 20% of the U.S. adult population. Although most polyps are benign, polyps left untreated may lead to colorectal cancer. There are various types of colon and rectal polyps, including adenomatous, serrated, and inflammatory. It is critical that patients with colon polyps, or a history of colorectal cancer, undergo regular screenings such as a colonoscopy to reduce their risk of developing this kind of cancer.
Polyps of the colon and rectum are typically caused by the mutation of genes. Healthy cells within the colon or rectum grow and divide at a normal rate, whereas mutated cells continue to divide even when they’re not needed. This abnormal, unregulated growth of cells can cause polyps to form in the colon or rectum. Generally speaking, larger polyps, or polyps left to grow without treatment, typically result in a greater likelihood of colorectal cancer.
There are many health factors that increase a person’s risk of developing polyps within the colon and rectum. Individuals over the age of 50 have an increased risk of developing polyps. Additionally, risk factors include those with inflammatory bowel syndromes such as ulcerative colitis and Crohn’s disease; a family history of colon polyps or colorectal cancer; a history of tobacco and alcohol abuse; obesity; and Type 2 diabetes that isn’t well controlled. On rare occasions, people will inherit the genetic mutations that cause colon polyps. These individuals may suffer from hereditary disorders such as Lynch syndrome, familial adenomatous polyposis (FAP), Garner’s syndrome, MYH-associated polyposis (MAP), Peutz-Jeghers syndrome, or serrated polyposis syndrome.
Polyps of the colon and rectum do not typically cause symptoms. Nevertheless, some individuals will experience the following symptoms from their colon polyps:
- Change in bowel movements
- Blood in stool, the toilet, or toilet paper
- Stool that appears black in color
- Abdominal pain
- Nausea or vomiting
- Anemia (iron deficiency)
Polyps discovered during an examination (colonoscopy) are usually removed to reduce the patient’s risk of developing colorectal cancer. That said, treatment may include polyp removal during the initial or follow-up screening using a wire loop or biopsy forceps. Minimally invasive surgery that involves a coagulating current or surgical excision may also be considered for treatment. If an inherited syndrome is present, a physician may recommend a total proctocolectomy, which is the removal of the colon and rectum.