Colon polyps are growths on the lining of the colon or rectum. The colon and the rectum are parts of the large intestine. It is all part of the digestive system.
The two most common kinds of polyp are:
- Adenomatous polyps—which are pre-cancerous and can become larger over time and may develop into cancer
- Hyperplastic polyps—do not increase in size and only rarely become cancerous
The cause of most colon polyps is unknown. It may be partly due to hereditary factors.
There are certain genetic conditions, such as familial adenomatous polyposis and Peutz–Jeghers syndrome, which cause many polyps to form.
Colon polyps are more common in people over 50 years old. Other factors that may increase your chance of colon polyps include:
Symptoms are often not present. Polyps are often found during an endoscopy/colonscopy or x-ray. If symptoms are present, they can include:
The doctor will ask about your symptoms and medical history. A physical exam will be done. Tests may include:
Depending on the size of the polyp, it may be removed. Large polyps are at high risk for becoming cancerous. They should be removed. Usually, polyps can be removed during colonoscopy.
If the polyps are very large, you may need to have surgery to have them removed. Your doctor may send the tissue from the removed polyps to be tested for cancer.
It’s not clear how polyps can be prevented. However, the following guidelines can help you stay healthy and may help prevent not only polyps but also colon cancer:
- Eat a high fiber diet with plenty of fruits, vegetables, and whole grains .
- Reduce the amount of animal fat in your diet. This occurs in beef and other meat products, as well as full-fat dairy products.
- Exercise regularly.
- Maintain a healthy weight.
- If you smoke, ask your doctor how to quit.
- See your doctor for regular screenings after the age of 50.
- More frequent screenings may be needed if polyps are found.
American Society of Colon and Rectal Surgeons
National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases
Canadian Digestive Health Foundation
The Canadian Association of Gastroenterology
Colon polyps. American College of Pathologists website. Available at: http://www.cap.org/apps/docs/reference/myBiopsy/colon_adenomatous_polyps.pdf. Accessed July 12, 2013.
Polyps of the colon and rectum. American Society of Colon and Rectal Surgeons website. Available at: http://www.fascrs.org/patients/conditions/polyps_of_the_colon_and_rectum. Accessed July 12, 2013.
What I need to know about colon polyps. National Digestive Diseases Information Clearinghouse website. Available at: http://digestive.niddk.nih.gov/ddiseases/pubs/colonpolyps_ez. Updated April 30, 2012. Accessed July 12, 2013.
2/5/2009 DynaMed's Systematic Literature Surveillance http://www.ebscohost.com/dynamed/what.php : Kim Y, Kim Y, Lee S. An association between colonic adenoma and abdominal obesity: a cross-sectional study. BMC Gastroenterol. 2009;9:4.
5/11/2009 DynaMed's Systematic Literature Surveillance http://www.ebscohost.com/dynamed/what.php : Jacobs ET, Ahnen DJ, Ashbeck EL, et al. Association between body mass index and colorectal neoplasia at follow-up colonoscopy: a pooling study. Am J Epidemiol. 2009;169:657-666.
7/6/2009 DynaMed's Systematic Literature Surveillance http://www.ebscohost.com/dynamed/what.php : Wise LA, Rosenberg L, Palmer JR, Adams-Campbell LL. Anthropometric risk factors for colorectal polyps in African-American women. Obesity (Silver Spring). 2008;16:859-868. Epub 2008 Jan 24.
Last reviewed June 2014 by Michael Woods, MD
Please be aware that this information is provided to supplement the care provided by your physician. It is neither intended nor implied to be a substitute for professional medical advice. CALL YOUR HEALTHCARE PROVIDER IMMEDIATELY IF YOU THINK YOU MAY HAVE A MEDICAL EMERGENCY. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health provider prior to starting any new treatment or with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition.