Polyps are abnormal growths rising from the lining of the large intestine (colon) that protrude into the intestinal canal (lumen). Most polyps are benign (noncancerous) and cause no symptoms. Most benign polyps are classified as one of two types: adenomatous (adenomas) and hyperplastic. Adenomatous polyps (adenomas) of the colon and rectum are benign (noncancerous) growths, but may be precursor lesions to colorectal cancer. Polyps greater than one centimeter in diameter are associated with a greater risk of cancer. If polyps are not removed, they continue to grow and can become cancerous.
Colorectal polyps are rather common with approximately 50 percent of people age 60 or older having one or more adenomatous polyps; however, only six percent of these people develop colon cancer. Patients may have more than one polyp, and the risk of having polyps increases with age. The chance of having polyps is also increased in patients with a family history of colorectal polyps or colorectal cancer, including inherited disorders such as Gardner’s syndrome and familial adenomatous polyposis.
Adenomas typically cause few symptoms; however, painless rectal bleeding is the most common symptom. There is no known way to prevent polyps, but they are typically easily removed by colonoscopy, which eliminates the risk of cancer in most cases. The surgical pathologist establishes the diagnosis of adenoma by microscopic examination of a biopsy specimen and also determines whether the tissue contains cancer or other disease. This information is essential in determining if further treatment is necessary and, if so, what kind will be most beneficial.
Treatment Options for Adenomas
Colonoscopy – A colonoscopy may be performed in an outpatient surgical facility. Through the use of a colonoscope, a physician can view the lining of the colon and remove individual polyps via a biopsy – an essentially painless procedure. Some large polyps may require surgical removal.
Follow-up Colonoscopy – Additional colonoscopies, over time, will be necessary to monitor your condition and check on the possible development of new polyps. It is essential that you periodically monitor your condition in order to reduce your risk of cancer.
Measures You Can Take to Prevent Colorectal Cancer:
- Monitor your bowel habits, and consult your physician if you experience any of the following:
– Changes in routine bowel movements
– Abdominal cramps
– Unexplained, significant weight loss (>10%)
– Blood in your stool
- Maintain a high-fiber diet that is low in fat and calories; consult your physician for proper diet and nutrition information
- Consult your physician as to the advisability of your taking nonsteroidal, anti- inflammatory drugs and/or dietary supplements (e.g., calcium) to reduce your risk of developing polyps
Important Questions to Ask Your Doctor:
- Does my polyp increase my risk of developing colorectal cancer?
- What can I do to take care of myself during and after treatment?
- To whom may I turn for nutritional and dietary information?
- What can I do to reduce my risk of developing additional polyps or cancer?
Sources of Additional Information
- American College of Gastroenterology 301-263-9000
- American Gastroenterological Association 301-654-2055
- Pharmaceutical Information Network