A polyp is a cauliflower-like growth on the skin or the mucosal surface. Colon is the medical term for the larger intestine and the rectum. A growth on the mucosal surface of this part of the intestine is known as a colon polyp. Although not visible, colon polyps is present with symptoms, which can lead to their diagnosis. The main cause for concern is that some colon polyps can turn into colorectal cancer, which is the third largest cancer in America.
Types: There are two main types of polyps
- Hyperplastic or inflammatory: These are benign growths and do not carry the risk of developing into cancer.
- Adenomas: These carry the risk of turning into cancer, and so early detection and intervention is essential.
Though not all polyps develop into tumors, yet all tumors develop from a polyp. There is a strong genetic component, which makes it worse. Someone with inflammatory bowel disease or Crohn’s disease is also at a higher risk of mucosal inflammation, which can induce dysplasia and then polyps.
- Family history
- Inflammatory bowel disease
- Diet rich in processed meat and red meat
- Lack of physical activity
- Type 2 diabetes
- Being male, being African American
Symptoms: Though often silent, some symptoms which also appear only after the polyp has grown considerably include:
- Bleeding with stools – often small amounts intermittently, which is occult bleeding, not visible though
- Altered bowel habits (constipation, diarrhea)
- Abdominal pain and discomfort
- Unexplained weight loss
- Anemia (due to blood loss)
Diagnosis: If a person is at risk from medical history and has the above symptoms, then the following are done:
- Sigmoidoscopy – Viewing the colon and rectum to see if there are any polyps. A biopsy may also be taken to confirm cancerous growth.
- Colonoscopy – The entire colon is viewed to rule out polyps in other areas of the colon.
- CT scan of the abdomen which is non-invasive and can be used as the first step.
- If a polyp is diagnosed, then it needs to be removed.
- If it turns out cancerous, then detailed evaluation should be done to rule out spread to other areas. Additionally, chemotherapy and radiotherapy may be required to completely eliminate the tumor and contain it.
- The surgical removal of the tumor would be planned depending on the stage of the tumor.
- Adapting a healthy lifestyle is very essential to managing polyps and preventing cancer. Quitting smoking, managing weight, eating healthy, and being physically active are some ways to prevent colorectal cancer.
- Repeat colonoscopy needs to be done to ensure these are not recurrent.