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Colon Polyps Often Precursor to Cancerous Growth

Early screening and removal of polyps can prevent cancer

DAYTON, Ohio (February 16, 2017) – The discovery of polyps in a person’s colon can play a significant role in preventing colon cancer and also lay the foundation for future screenings for the disease. 

Polyps are benign growths involving the lining of the bowel that can be found in several locations in the gastrointestinal tract, but most commonly in the colon. Polyps vary in size and formation. According to the American Society for Gastrointestinal Endoscopy (ASGE), they can range from less than a quarter of an inch to several inches in diameter, and may grow on a stalk and look like a mushroom.

“Polyps are best described as a clump of cells that form on the lining of the colon,” said Scott Wilcher, MD, a surgeon with North Dayton Surgeons. “Most polyps are harmless, but some of them can develop into colon cancer, which we know is not harmless when left untreated.”

Polyps are very common in adults, whose risk for developing them increases with age. Unfortunately, polyps are asymptomatic, or rarely detected through symptoms. Those that grow to be large in size may cause bleeding in the stool. Otherwise, the majority of polyps are found through imaging, which is why screening individuals with no symptoms is so important, the ASGE said.

Screening techniques include testing stool specimens for traces of blood, performing a colonoscopy or sigmoidoscopy to look into the colon or using radiology tests such as a barium enema or CT colonography. If any of these tests detect the presence of a polyp then they are removed for testing. Polyps are easily removed during the time of imaging, but there are situations where it may be referred to a surgeon such as Dr. Wilcher, who removes it laparoscopically.

A person is at an increased risk for colon cancer if a polyp is found during imaging. How they will be followed after that discovery is based on several factors such as the amount found in one imaging, the size of each polyp and its shape. Here’s a look at how often one might be monitored if a polyp is found:

  • Six months – Those whose polyp was only partially removed.
  • Three years – Those who had more than two polyps, a polyp larger than half an inch in size or a polyp with a broad faced base.
  • Five years – Patients who were found to have only one or two small polyps.

There are four main types of colon polyps. Hyperplastic polyps are benign and do not cause any harm. Adenomatous polyps account for two-thirds of all polyps and can become cancerous although only a small percentage ever do. Serrated polyps are flat and can be difficult to see on imaging, however, hold the highest risk of turning into cancer. Inflammatory-type polyps are associated with people with Crohn’s disease or ulcerative colitis. These types of polyps are usually benign.

Dr. Wilcher said the good news is that it is usually a slow process for a polyp to turn into cancer, which is why it is important for individuals to undergo preventive screening when they reach age 50. Certain types of polyps can also be hereditary. Family members who know it runs in their family should talk to their doctor about being screened at an earlier age.

For more information on polyps or to find a Premier Health Specialists’ physician near you visit our general surgery page

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