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Colon Polyps - Topic Overview

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Colon polyps camera.gif are growths in your large intestine (colon) camera.gif. 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 African Americans and people 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.

You are more likely to have colon polyps if:

  • You are over 50.
  • Colon polyps or colon cancer runs in your family.
  • You inherited a certain gene that causes you to develop polyps. People with this gene are much more likely than others to get the kind of polyps that turn into colon cancer.

Doctors usually remove colon polyps, because some of them can turn into colon cancer. Most polyps are removed during a colonoscopy. You may need to have surgery if you have a large polyp.

After you have had polyps, you have a higher chance of developing new polyps. If you have had polyps removed, it is important to have follow-up testing to look for more polyps. Talk to your doctor about how often you need to be tested.

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WebMD Medical Reference from Healthwise

Last Updated: April 12, 2013
This information is not intended to replace the advice of a doctor. Healthwise disclaims any liability for the decisions you make based on this information.
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