A polyp is extra tissue which starts off as a small bump in the lining then later grows to look like a mushroom. Colonic polyps grow in the large intestine. The large intestine, also called the colon, is a long hollow tube at the end of your digestive tract where your body makes and stores stool. Colonic polyps are not necessarily dangerous. Most are benign, which means they are not cancerous. But over time, some types of polyps can develop cancerous cells. Usually, polyps that are smaller than a pea aren't harmful. But larger polyps could eventually develop into cancer or may already be cancerous. To be safe, Gastroenterologists remove all polyps and test them.
- Anyone can develop polyps, but certain people are more likely than others. You may have a greater chance of developing polyps if: you're over 50 (The older you are, the more likely you are to develop polyps)
- you've had polyps before
- someone in your family has had polyps
- someone in your family has had cancer of the large intestine
- You also may be more likely to develop polyps if you:
- eat a lot of fatty foods
- drink alcohol
- don't exercise
- weigh too much
Most small polyps don't cause symptoms. Often, people don't know they have one until the doctor finds it during a regular check up or while testing them for something else.
- But some people do have symptoms like these:
- anal bleeding (You might notice blood on your underwear or on toilet paper after you've had a bowel movement)
- constipation or diarrhoea that lasts more than a week
- blood in the stool (Blood can make stool look black, or it can show up as red streaks in the stool)
If you have any of these symptoms, see your doctor to find out what the problem is, as you may need to be referred to a Gastroenterologist.
- Gastroenterologists can use a number of tests to check for polyps:
- Digital rectal exam. The doctor wears gloves and checks your lower rectum for polyps.
- Barium enema. The doctor places liquid barium in your rectum, before taking an x-ray of your large intestine. Barium makes your intestine look white in the pictures. Polyps are dark, so they're easy to identify.
- Sigmoidoscopy. This is an older technique but is sometimes used where the doctor can see inside the lower large intestine while the patient is under sedation. The doctor puts a thin flexible tube into the rectum. The device is called an endoscope, which is equipped with a light and miniature video camera. Gastroenterologists utilise the endoscope to look at the last third of the large intestine.
- Colonoscopy. This test is similar to sigmoidoscopy, but allows the doctor to look at all of the large intestine using an endoscope. This procedure requires sedation.
Colon Cancer Screening
Colon Cancer is the most frequently diagnosed new cancer in Australia. This form of cancer affects the large intestine, mostly as a result of polyps. Research has shown that colon cancer develops predominantly in people aged 50 or more, thus it is highly recommended that people of this age group undergo cancer screening. Colon Cancer in most cases develops as a result of benign polyps developing cancerous cells within them.
The most effective treatment for polyps is their removal. Gastroenterologists remove polyps during colonoscopy, and then have the tissue pathologically tested for any presence of cancer. Once a person has had a polyp removed a regular re-colonoscopic examination is required to reduce the risk of polyp recurrence and cancer formation.