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Colorectal Polyps

Alternative names: Pre-Cancerous Growths

What are colorectal polyps?
What are the signs of colorectal polyps?
What causes colorectal polyps?
How does my doctor tell if I have colorectal polyps?
How are colorectal polyps treated?

What are colorectal polyps?

Polyps are small growths that may lead to colon cancer. Colorectal polyps form on the lining of the large intestine, the final part of your digestive system. About 30 percent of people who are screened for colorectal cancer are found to have polyps. Although most polyps are harmless (benign), some polyps can become cancers in five to ten years.

What are the signs of colorectal polyps?

Most people with colorectal polyps are unaware of their presence until they are screened for colorectal cancer. In most cases, polyps cause no symptoms. In rare instances, colorectal polyps can cause:

  • Bleeding from the rectum
  • Blood in bowel movements

What causes colorectal polyps?

Polyps are small growths on the lining of the colon that are caused by uncontrolled growth of abnormal cells. Most colorectal cancer starts as polyps, some of which - over five to ten years - can turn into colon cancer. If you are over 50, you are at risk for developing polyps. If someone in your family has had colon cancer, you have a greater than average chance of developing colorectal polyps or cancers. Doctors recommend that anyone who is at least fifty years old has a regular screening for colorectal cancer. This testing begins as an earlier age for people with a family history of colorectal cancer or polyps.

How does my doctor tell if I have colorectal polyps?

The best test to find colorectal polyps is a colonoscopy, which checks your entire large intestine for cancer and polyps. It is a very effective test that prevents cancer in as much as 90% of patients, because any polyps are painlessly removed during the exam. You will be sedated during the procedure, and will need to have someone drive you home. Plan to be at the hospital for about three hours. More information about colorectal cancer screening.

How are colorectal polyps treated?

Because there is no way to tell if a polyp will or won't develop into cancer, a doctor removes any polyps he or she finds during a colonoscopy. This is called a polypectomy.

During a colonoscopy, your doctor will view the inside of your large intestine on a television monitor, and use tiny tools to remove potential pre-cancerous growths. Small polyps can be removed with a forceps that snips off pieces of tissue. The doctor will remove larger polyps by putting a wire noose around the bottom of the polyp and using a quick electrical charge to burn through the tissue. In both cases, the removal of a polyp causes no pain.

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