Colorectal polyps are commonly found during standard screening exams of the colon (large intestine) and rectum (the bottom section of your colon). They affect about 20% to 30% of American adults. Polyps are abnormal growths that start in the inner lining of the colon or rectum. Some polyps are flat while others have a stalk.
Colorectal polyps can grow in any part of the colon. Most often, they grow in the left side of the colon and in the rectum. While the majority of polyps will not become cancer, certain types may be precancerous. Having polyps removed reduces a person’s future risk for colorectal cancer.
Most colorectal polyps do not cause any symptoms unless they are large. That is why screening for polyps and cancer is so important. While uncommon, polyps can cause these symptoms:
- Blood in the stool
- Excess mucus
- A change in bowel habits (such as frequency)
- Abdominal pain
The most common test used to detect colorectal polyps is a colonoscopy. During this outpatient test, your colon and rectal surgeon will examine your colon using a long, thin flexible tube with a camera and a light on the end. If polyps are found, they are removed at the same time.
CT colonography (called virtual colonoscopy) may be used to examine the colon indirectly. However, If polyps or a tumor are found during this test, follow-up colonoscopy may be needed to remove or biopsy them. Other tests used to detect polyps include a digital rectal exam, fecal occult blood testing (this tests for microscopic or invisible blood in the stool), barium enema, and sigmoidoscopy, which uses a flexible tube to inspect the sigmoid colon.
Removal of colorectal polyps is advised because there is no test to determine if one will turn into cancer. Nearly all polyps can be removed or eliminated during a colonoscopy. Large polyps may require more than one treatment. Rarely, some patients may require surgery for complete removal.
PROGNOSIS AFTER TREATMENT
Once a colorectal polyp is completely removed, it rarely comes back. However, at least 30% of patients will develop new polyps after removal. For this reason, your physician will advise follow-up testing to look for new polyps. This is usually done 3 to 5 years after polyp removal. Taking a daily aspirin or other non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) may reduce the risk of new polyps forming. If you had polyps removed, ask your physician if you should take this medication to help prevent them from coming back.
WHAT IS A COLON AND RECTAL SURGEON?
Colon and rectal surgeons are experts in the surgical and non-surgical treatment of diseases of the colon, rectum and anus. They have completed advanced surgical training in the treatment of these diseases as well as full general surgical training. Board-certified colon and rectal surgeons complete residencies in general surgery and colon and rectal surgery, and pass intensive examinations conducted by the American Board of Surgery and the American Board of Colon and Rectal Surgery. They are well-versed in the treatment of both benign and malignant diseases of the colon, rectum and anus and are able to perform routine screening examinations and surgically treat conditions if indicated to do so.
The American Society of Colon and Rectal Surgeons is dedicated to ensuring high-quality patient care by advancing the science, prevention and management of disorders and diseases of the colon, rectum and anus. These brochures are inclusive but not prescriptive. Their purpose is to provide information on diseases and processes, rather than dictate a specific form of treatment. They are intended for the use of all practitioners, health care workers and patients who desire information about the management of the conditions addressed. It should be recognized that these brochures should not be deemed inclusive of all proper methods of care or exclusive of methods of care reasonably directed to obtain the same results. The ultimate judgment regarding the propriety of any specific procedure must be made by the physician in light of all the circumstances presented by the individual patient