Colon Polyps

Polyps are extra tissues that grow inside the body organs. Colon polyps grow in the colon (large intestine).

They are shaped like a mushroom or a dome-like button. Polyps may be as small as a tiny pea. At times, they are larger than a plum.

Most are colon polyps are benign. This means they are not cancerous (malignant). However, some types of polyps can turn into cancer after a long duration. They can also bleed leading to anaemia.

Larger polyps are more likely to contain cancer cells. Generally, small polyps are not harmful.

Risk Factors

Heredity and genes are important factors in the formation of polyps. At times diet plays an important role.

People who are likely to get polyps include those:

  • Over 50
  • With a personal/family history of polyps.
  • Those whose relatives have had cancer of the large intestine.
  • More men develop colon polyps and colon cancer than women do.
  • Long-lasting inflammatory diseases of the colon such as ulcerative colitis and crohn's disease increases your risk.

    Other factors likely to lead to colon polyps are

  • Smoking (people who smoke more than 20 cigarettes a day have 250% more polyps than non smokers)
  • Drinking alcohol
  • Eating a lot of fatty foods
  • Lack of exercise (sedentary lifestyle)
  • Overweight

    Symptoms

    Small polyps may not cause symptoms and doctors are likely to find them while testing them for something else or during regular checkups.

    If there are symptoms, these may include:

  • Abdominal pain
  • Bleeding
  • Constipation
  • Diarrhoea

    Testing for Colon Polyps

    A patient's medical history can be a good pointer to risk factors for colon polyps.

    There are various methods for testing presence of polyps:

  • In digital rectal examination, the doctor checks your rectum to see if it feels normal. This test would find polyps only in the rectum. It is difficult for the doctor to feel small polyps. In addition, other tests are needed to find polyps higher up in the intestine.

  • In barium enema, the doctor puts a liquid called barium into your rectum. X rays of your large intestine are then taken. Barium makes your intestine look white in the pictures. Polyps are darker and appear like shadows. They can therefore be spotted. Polyps cannot be removed using this technique.

  • Sigmoidoscopy test: This is a visual exam of the rectum and lower colon. The doctor puts a thin flexible tube called sigmoidoscope into your rectum. A sigmoidoscope has a light and a tiny video camera in it. Using this, the doctor can see the last third of your large intestine.

  • Colonoscopy: the doctor looks at all of the large intestine using a similar method as sigmoidoscopy. This procedure usually requires sedation. Colonoscopy is the definitive exam for colon polyps as they can be discovered and removed at the same time.

    Treatment of Colon Polyps

    Treatment is normally by removal of the polyp. The polyps may be taken out during sigmoidoscopy or colonoscopy.

    They are removed by trapping them with a wire loop that concurrently cuts the stalk of the polyp and cauterizes it to prevent bleeding.

    They may also be taken out during an operation of the abdomen. Large polyps are removed through Laparoscopic surgery.

    In Laparoscopic surgery, your surgeon performs the operation through several small incisions in your abdominal wall. Instruments with attached cameras are used. They display your colon on a video monitor.

    Laparoscopic surgery normally results in a faster and less painful recovery than traditional surgery using a single large incision.

    Individuals who have had polyps need to be tested regularly in order to check future reoccurrence.

    How to Prevent Colon Polyps

    There is no sure way of preventing polyps. However, you can greatly reduce your risk of getting them by:

  • Eating less fatty food
  • Eating more fruits, vegetables and whole grains
  • Not smoking
  • Avoiding alcohol
  • Regular exercise
  • Losing weight for those overweight
  • Eating more vitamin B-6, calcium and foliate

    Calcium regulates the growth of the cells that are the inside of the colon. People who get 1000-1500 mg of calcium a day in their diet have less colon cancer. Calcium supplements can help in avoiding colon polyps.

    Foods that are rich in calcium include dairy products such as milk and cheese, as wells as vegetables such as broccoli. Foods rich in foliate are include chickpeas, kidney beans, and spinach.

    It is also thought that aspirin might help prevent polyps.

    Early identification and removal of polyps can prevent colon cancer from developing.

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