Polyps are small growths or bumps that are formed by clusters of cells which appear on the inner lining of the digestive tract. They are usually non-cancerous and will often not have any apparent symptoms, but some types of polyps can lead to the development of cancer if they are left unaddressed. Polyps can appear in any part of the digestive tract, but the most common are colon polyps (also known as colorectal polyps).
It is not known precisely what causes polyps to develop, but they occur when a genetic change in the cells of the digestive tract results in unregulated tissue growth. Polyps rarely affect younger adults, but become much more common beginning around the age of 50. Your risk of developing polyps may also vary depending on your family history, gender, and ethnicity, as well as lifestyle factors.
Larger polyps can obstruct the digestive tract and may manifest as changes in bowel movements, such as sustained diarrhea or constipation. There may be abdominal bloating or pain. If a polyp is causing bleeding, it may still not necessarily be noticeable. Stools may appear dark red or black in color, or you may develop symptoms of iron deficiency if chronic bleeding continues over a longer period of time.
It is important to note that in many cases, polyps will have no noticeable symptoms. They are commonly discovered during regular screenings like colonoscopies which are performed when no symptoms are present.
Polyps can affect men or women of any age and race, but there are a variety of factors that can affect your likelihood of developing them. The primary factor is age, with polyps being found in almost one-third of adults over the age of 50. Polyps are more common among men than women and affect African-Americans more than other racial demographics.
Heredity can also affect your risk, with research having shown that you are more likely to have polyps if a close relative did. There are also some conditions, such as hereditary mixed
polyposis syndrome (HMPS), which are passed down through your genes and could make you more susceptible. Inflammatory bowel disease (IBD), such as Crohn’s or ulcerative colitis, also increases your risk of polyps developing into colorectal cancer.
While any genetic predisposition toward colon polyps is beyond your control, there are also lifestyle factors that play a role. Polyps are more likely to affect you if you:
If you report symptoms which may be caused by polyps, your doctor will begin by reviewing your medical history and performing a physical exam. A stool sample may be taken to determine whether blood is present. An x-ray or CT scan may help identify polyps, but a colonoscopy will typically be performed in order to directly view the affected area and remove polyps to be biopsied.
Because polyps are often not accompanied by any noticeable symptoms, they are very frequently spotted during routine colonoscopies. This screening procedure, which uses a tiny camera attached to a narrow tube which is used to view the inside of the lower digestive tract, should normally be performed every 10 years beginning at the age of 50. You may want to begin as early as age 40 if you have a significant family history of colon cancer.
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After a polyp is removed from the digestive tract during a colonoscopy, your doctor will test it to verify which type it is and whether there is a risk of cancer. Treatment will depend on the type and size of the polyps, as well as how many there are. It is frequently the case that the polyps are found to be harmless and no additional treatment will be needed, although follow-up screenings will probably be recommended.
Any adenomas – that is, cancerous polyps – which are found will be removed either during a colonoscopy or, if they are very large, through surgery. If polyps are found to be cancerous or at a high risk of becoming cancerous, your doctor may recommend a follow-up colonoscopy as soon as 3-5 years later, or even within the year in severe cases, as opposed to the usual 10-year interval.
Many of the risk factors associated with polyps, such as age and genetics, are not things you can do anything about. That said, it is possible to cut out some of the behaviors which have been linked to a higher risk of polyps. Quitting smoking, eating a healthy diet high in fiber, and getting daily exercise are all great moves for reducing your risk. It’s also important to get a colonoscopy at least once every 10 years after you reach the age of 50 to ensure that if polyps are present, they are caught early on before they can develop into cancer or other serious digestive tract issues.
Having polyps doesn’t necessarily mean that you are at risk of developing cancer, but it does increase your likelihood of developing more and larger polyps which could grow to be a problem if they cause obstructions in the digestive tract. Regular screenings are essential to minimizing your risk of developing complications over time.
If left unaddressed, some colon polyps may lead to an increased risk of colorectal cancer. You are also at a higher risk of developing polyps if you have a form of inflammatory bowel disease (IBD) such as Crohn’s or ulcerative colitis.
Polyps are clumps of cells which form along the inner lining of the digestive tract, most frequently in the colon. While they can often be present without any cancer risk or apparent symptoms, they can be linked to a risk of colorectal cancer and may also cause rectal bleeding and changes in bowel movements. Polyps can affect anybody but are most common in adults over the age of 50. It’s important to get regular colonoscopies at least once every 10 years after turning 50 in order to catch the development of polyps early on and minimize your risk of cancer or other potential complications.