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Colon polyps are tiny clumps of cells that can grow on the lining of the colon or rectum. Most colon polyps will not cause any problems, and they will not develop into cancer. However, some can grow and become cancerous. And since most colorectal cancer develops from polyps, it’s best to find and remove them before they lead to cancer. Recommended screening colonoscopies are an effective way to prevent colorectal cancer or find and treat it early if it does occur. 

There are three common types of polyps. Adenomatous polyps, also known as adenomas, are polyps that can develop into cancer. They are considered a pre-cancerous condition, so doctors will remove them if they are found. Hyperplastic polyps and inflammatory polyps are more common than adenomas, and they are not usually pre-cancerous. 

There is no surefire way to determine whether a polyp will develop into cancer. But there are some factors that tend to increase a person’s risk of colorectal cancer when they have one or more colon polyps. 

A polyp that’s larger than 1 centimeter in diameter puts a person at greater risk for developing cancer.

Having more than two polyps found at the same time increases risks.

Having what is called post-polyp removal dysplasia also increases risk; this is abnormal cell growth after polyp removal. It also increases risk.

Who is at Risk for Getting Polyps?

Anyone can develop colon or rectal polyps, but they are most common in adults over the age of 45. People with a personal or family history of polyps or colorectal cancer are also at higher risk. And people with certain gene mutations have a significantly increased risk of polyps and colorectal cancer.

What are the Symptoms of Polyps?

Much of the time, polyps in the colon or rectum don’t cause any symptoms. This is why getting the recommended screening colonoscopy is so important. The best and most effective way to prevent colorectal cancer is to be regularly screened for colon and rectal polyps.

When people with polyps do have signs or symptoms, they may experience:

  • Bleeding from the rectum; this blood is usually bright red
  • Changes in stool color or consistency
  • Changes in bowel habits; constipation or diarrhea that lasts longer than a week or two should be checked out by your doctor
  • Cramps or pain in the abdomen
  • Anemia due to polyps that bleed; anemia can make you feel tired or short of breath

If you have any symptoms of polyps or colorectal cancer, you need to seek medical advice. If you experience the following symptoms for more than a week, it’s time to make an appointment with a doctor:

  • A change in your bowel habits
  • Abdominal pain
  • Blood in your stool or in the toilet after a bowel movement*

*If you have blood in your stool or see it in the toilet, call your doctor right away. Don’t wait a week to see if it goes away. 

Risk Factors for Developing Polyps

The risk factors for developing colon or rectal polyps are similar to those for developing colon cancer. They include:

  • Hereditary polyp disorders, such as Lynch syndrome, familial adenomatous polyposis (FAP), and Gardner’s syndrome
  • Inflammatory intestinal conditions, like Crohn’s disease and ulcerative colitis
  • Being over 45 years old
  • Having a family history of colorectal cancer or hereditary polyp disorders
  • Smoking
  • Drinking alcohol
  • Being overweight
  • Having a sedentary lifestyle
  • Having uncontrolled Type 2 diabetes

Polyps can’t usually be prevented, but you can take steps to keep them from growing or developing into cancer. Having a colonoscopy is the best way to keep polyps under control. You can also reduce your risk by making positive lifestyle changes, like quitting smoking, limiting alcohol consumption, exercising regularly, and maintaining a healthy weight. 

When to be Screened for Colon Polyps

Recommendations for colon polyp and colorectal cancer screening vary depending on your age and risk factors. Make an appointment for a screening colonoscopy if:

  • You’re 45 years or older
  • You have risk factors, including:
    • A family history of colorectal cancer
    • A gene mutation that puts you at high risk for developing polyps or colorectal cancer
    • A personal history of colon or rectal polyps

Some risk factors will require you to have colonoscopies much earlier than the general public and more frequently. Talk with your doctor about your risk factors and when you should have your next colonoscopy.

Schedule your next colonoscopy to look for polyps. Get a referral to a Beaumont doctor today by calling (248) 577-9277.