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Colon Polyps

Colon polyps are overgrowths of the internal lining of the colon. They are very common, up to 50% of adults have them.  Some types of polyps have the potential to become cancerous (adenomas) and only a percentage of these become cancerous and it can take years for a cancer to develop from a polyp.  However, the prompt detection and removal of polyps is the best way to prevent cancer of the colon or rectum. Most polyps can be safely removed with colonoscopy.

What causes polyps?

Polyps are most common in older people (90% in people over 50) and they are associated with a western diet, obesity and cigarette smoking.  There is a strong association with a family history of polyps or colorectal cancer.  Rarely they are related to genetic disorders.

What are the types of colon polyps?

The 2 most common types of polyps are

  • Hyperplastic polyps – these are benign polyps, most commonly found in the rectum and have a lower risk of becoming cancerous. They are often removed to confirm they are not adenomatous polyps.
  • Adenomatous polyps – Over 60% of colon polyps are adenomas, these do have the ability to become cancerous and are removed rule out cancer and to reduce the risk of cancer in the future. People who have these polyps will need follow up colonoscopies as they are at higher risk of developing more adenomas.

There are many other types of rare polyp and some polyps may have become cancerous even when removed.

How would I Kw if I have colon polyps?

Polyps usually don’t have symptoms but occasionally c cause bleeding or mucous in the stools.  Some people with family member with polyps or bowel cancer opt to undergo a screening colonoscopy. In Australia, there is a national bowel cancer screening programme, which uses a stool test to identify people with risk of polyps or cancers.

How are polyps diagnosed?

The best test for polyps is a colonoscopy. This involves cleansing the bowel with a bowel preparation and then undergoing examination of the colon with a long tube with a Camera on the end.

How are polyps removed?

Most polyps can be removed safely during colonoscopy, this is called polypectomy.  This is a painless procedure, where the polyp is surrounded by a metallic noose and then sheared off with an electric current.  Rarely large or malignant polyps require a formal colon operation for their complete removal. 

IS polyp removal dangerous?

Polyp removal can cause bleeding from the polyp site and can cause a hole in the bowel (perforation). These are potentially serious complications that may require surgery to stop them becoming life threatening.

What happens after polypectomy?

After a polyp is removed it is retrieved in the colonoscope and sent to the lab for testing.  Depending on the features of the polyp seen under the microscope, will determine if further treatment is required, whether follow up procedures are necessary and whether family members should also undergo colonoscopy.

How do I prepare for colonoscopy?

For colonoscopy preparation instructions please see my patient information sheets, preparing for a morning colonoscopy or preparing for an afternoon colonoscopy.