Colon Polyps - Topic Overview
Colon polyps are growths in your large intestine (colon) . The cause of most colon polyps is not known, but they are common in adults.
Over time, some polyps can turn into colon cancer. It usually takes many years for that to happen.
You can have colon polyps and not know it, because they usually don't cause symptoms. They are usually found during routine screening tests for colon cancer. A screening test looks for signs of a disease when there are no symptoms.
If polyps get large, they can cause symptoms. You may have bleeding from your rectum or a change in your bowel habits. A change in bowel habits includes diarrhea, constipation, going to the bathroom more often or less often than usual, or a change in the way your stool looks.
Most polyps are found during tests for colon cancer. Experts recommend routine colon cancer testing for everyone between the ages of 50 and 75 who has a normal risk for colon cancer. People with a higher risk, such as those with a strong family history of colon cancer, may need to be tested sooner. The tests for colon cancer are:
- Stool tests. In a fecal occult blood test (FOBT), a fecal immunochemical test (FIT), and a stool DNA test (sDNA), stool samples are checked for signs of cancer.
- Colonoscopy. In this test, the doctor inserts a small viewing tube all the way into your colon and looks for polyps. The doctor can also take out any polyps he or she finds.
- Flexible sigmoidoscopy. This test is like a colonoscopy, except that the viewing tube is shorter so the doctor can only look at the last part of your colon. Doctors can remove polyps during this test.
- Computed tomographic colonography (CTC). This test is also called a virtual colonoscopy. A computer and X-rays make a detailed picture of the colon to help the doctor look for polyps.
Doctors often recommend colonoscopy, because it lets them look at the whole colon and remove any polyps they find. If polyps are found during another type of test, you may still need colonoscopy so the doctor can remove the polyps.