Colonoscopy Polyps Explained

What are colon polyps?

Polyps are small growths that can are most commonly found along the inner lining of the colon. They either grow flat or in a mushroom-like shape on a stalk, and can vary in size from less than a quarter of an inch to several inches in diameter.

There are two common types of polyps:
  1. Hyperplastic polyps: polyps that are entirely not at risk for cancer
  2. Adenoma polyps: polyps that could possibly develop into colon cancer

Adenoma polyps are the types of growths (along with other tissue abnormalities) that doctors are on the lookout for during colonoscopies. Although most adenoma polyps never become cancerous, it’s impossible to tell which ones will in the future just by sight. To be on the safe side, doctors remove all polyps that are discovered during a colonoscopy.

What causes polyps?

Although it’s not certain what exactly causes polyps, there are a few factors that are known to increase your risk of having them. The highest known correlating factor is age; your chances increase as you grow older.

Polyp growths are actually fairly common among adults, with a 25% chance of having a polyp at the age of 60. On the opposite end, it’s very rare for adults in their 20s to develop a polyp. In fact, the biggest risk factor for having a polyp is simply being over the age of 50.

The following are other factors that experts believe increase the chance of having a polyp:
  • Family history of polyps or colon cancer
  • Personal history of polyps or colon cancer
  • Rare polyp or cancer syndromes
  • Genetic traits
  • High-fat, low-fiber diet

It’s nearly impossible to notice the development of a polyp on your own without any screening. Polyps are generally asymptomatic, with only the larger ones sometimes causing blood in the stools. The surest way to detect polyp growths in your colon are through screenings, most commonly a colonoscopy. Although there are other screening methods—such as stool testing, sigmoidoscopies, and radiology tests—colonoscopies are the most accurate and allow the doctor to remove any polyps discovered at the time of the screening.

Colonoscopy polyps results

When you undergo a colonoscopy, your doctor will review the results with you following the procedure. The colonoscopy is negative if no abnormalities are found in the colon. The procedure will come back positive if any polyps or abnormal tissues are discovered.

If your colonoscopy comes back positive, don’t fret; as most colon polyps are benign. However, some can be precancerous, containing small, removable areas of cancer. Although most polyps are noncancerous, the risk of developing colon cancer increases as they grow in size. Due to the increased risks of letting polyps grow, any polyps that are discovered in a colonoscopy are removed, if possible, during the procedure. The doctor will then send the removed polyps off to a lab to determine whether they are cancerous, precancerous, or noncancerous.

Polyps found during colonoscopy

When polyps are discovered during a colonoscopy, doctors will either remove it entirely or mark the site for a specialized doctor to locate the polyp more easily. Most commonly, the doctor will conduct a polyp resection, either removing the polyp entirely with a wire loop biopsy forceps or by burning the polyp base with an electric current. Either method causes no discomfort in most cases. If the polyp cannot be removed or a large or unusual polyp is removed, they will mark the site through endoscopic tattooing so that the location can easily be identified in the next procedure.

If polyps are discovered and removed during your colonoscopy, your doctor may recommend a more regular screening to catch new growths from becoming cancerous. How regularly you’ll have to be screened in the future depends on the following:
  • Number and size of polyps removed
  • Polyp tissue type
  • Quality of pre-procedure colon cleansing

If polyps are discovered that are too large or are not easily removed, your doctor will recommend setting up a repeat procedure. Depending on the condition and size of the polyp, you may have to visit a gastroenterologist who has a specialty in removing large or abnormal polyps.

Removing polyps

Polyp removal is a very routine outpatient procedure with very minimal risks involved. Even the actual removal causes little to no discomfort since the lining of your bowel is not sensitive to cuts or burns. Just like with any procedure though, there are some uncommon complications that can arise from a polyp removal. These issues occur at the site of the removal, either in the form of a bleeding or a perforation in the colon. If bleeding occurs at the time of the removal, it can almost always be resolved during the initial procedure. Sometimes, bleeding can be delayed for several days but can be stopped easily through another treatment. If a perforation occurs, surgery may be required.

If you are at risk of developing polyps or simply at the age when you should be getting regular screenings, make a colonoscopy appointment today with one of our physicians.