Colon Polyps: Causes, Facts, Symptoms, Diagnosis, Treatment, Prevention
What Are Colon Polyps?
A Colon Polyp is a pathological condition of the colon in which small clumps of cells are formed in the lining of colon. Majority of Colon Polyps are asymptomatic and not harmful, but some types of polyps may predispose an individual to colon cancer over time, if not treated, which can potentially be a life threatening disease. People above the age of 50 are at highest risk for developing colon polyps along with individuals with a prior history or a family history of Colon Polyps. This condition usually is asymptomatic and hence it becomes imperative, especially for people above the age of 50, to have regular colon screenings.
There are many types of Colon Polyps but of most important are the three types mentioned below:
- Adenomatous Colon Polyps: About 40% of Colon Polyps are found to be of this type. Very rarely do these types of polyps become cancerous even though majority of malignant polyps are of this type.
- Serrated Colon Polyps: These polyps may become cancerous depending on its size and location in the colon.
- Inflammatory Colon Polyps: These types of polyps are found usually after an episode of ulcerative colitis or Crohn's disease. Although such polyps themselves are harmless, but having diseases like Ulcerative Colitis or Crohn’s disease can predispose an individual to colon cancer.
What Are The Causes Of Colon Polyps?
Under normal circumstances, the growth and division of cells takes place in an orderly fashion but due to mutations in certain genes the cells in the colon start to divide to form new cells even when they are not required resulting in formation of a chunk of cells in the colon. This is known as a Colon Polyp. Polyps can form anywhere in the large intestine. The likelihood of development of cancer increases depending on the size of the polyp.
Facts About Colon Polyps
- Colon Polyps as stated are abnormal growths in the innermost lining of colon. It is quite a common disease but needs treatment as early as possible.
- At times, Colon Polyps may become malignant; therefore, treatment of this disease is of utmost importance. It is also important to note that depending on the size, quantity, and histology it can be successfully predicted whether an individual is at risk for developing colon cancer or not.
- The root cause of Colon Polyps is changes in the genetic function of cells which form the colon lining.
- There can be various types of Colon Polyps with varying degree of risk of becoming malignant.
- Colon Polyps are usually asymptomatic and only in some cases are symptoms observed and majority of the symptoms are caused due to bleeding from the polyps.
- The best way to diagnose Colon Polyps is to do a colonoscopy, barium enema, or flexible sigmoidoscopy, which are minimally invasive procedures and can definitively identify the presence of polyps in an individual.
- Treatment of Colon Polyps consists of endoscopic removal or at times surgery.
- In case if an individual has a family history of Colon Polyps, then diligent followups with colonoscopy are also required. The screenings depend on the size and amount of polyps removed previously. This time can range from 5 to 10 years.
What Are The Symptoms Of Colon Polyps?
Symptoms of Colon Polyps Include:
- Rectal bleeding
- Change in color of stools
- Change in bowel habits.
- Abdominal Pain
- Iron deficiency anemia as a result of bleeding from the polyps.
How Is Colon Polyps Diagnosed?
Regular screening for Colon Polyps is extremely essential, especially for people above the age of 50 in order to identify Colon Polyps early before they take a serious turn towards becoming cancerous. Such screenings are also quite helpful in identifying colorectal cancer in its preliminary stage at which time prognosis of the affected individual is extremely good for recovery.
Some Of The Screening Methods Used For Identifying Colon Polyps Are:
- Colonoscopy: This is by far the best method to identify and remove colon polyps. If a polyp is identified, then the treating physician can remove the polyp immediately and may even take tissue samples for biopsy.
- CT Colonography: This is a type of screening which involves use of CT scan to view the colon. In case a polyp is identified then the individual will have to undergo colonoscopy for definitive treatment.
- Flexible Sigmoidoscopy: In this type of screening, a flexible sigmoidoscope is inserted through the rectum to take a look at the sigmoid colon. If a polyp is identified then it can be removed by colonoscopy.
What Are Treatments For Colon Polyps?
The best treatment for Colon Polyps is to remove them in their entirety. Some of the methods used for removal of Colon Polyps are:
- Removal While Screening: Majority of the polyps identified at the time of screening are removed then and there using biopsy forceps or snared using electrocautery. To aid in this, the area of the polyps is infiltrated with liquid so that the polyps are lifted off of the floor and are able to be removed easily.
- Minimally Invasive Surgery: Some Colon Polyps that are quite big and cannot be removed at the time of screening can be removed using minimally invasive surgical techniques.
Does Presence Of Colon Polyps Predispose An Individual To Colon Cancer?
The answer to the question is no, even though majority of colon cancers develop because of Colon Polyps. Some types of colon cancers also develop within the colonic wall. Such types of cancers are extremely difficult to diagnose and treat and in all likelihood they can spread to the adjoining lymph nodes.
In some cases, there is also a familial predisposition to colon cancers called as hereditary nonpolyposis colorectal cancer or Lynch Syndrome which can cause colon cancers in more than 80% of people with this syndrome even though there may be no development of Colon Polyps in such individuals. Another fact is that such cancers develop at a relatively young age than those associated with Colon Polyps. This syndrome is usually identified when a family member gets colon cancer at a very young age and there are other family members who also have had colon cancers. If Lynch Syndrome is suspected, then it is imperative that the individual gets a genetic testing done. If Lynch Syndrome is identified, then colonoscopy screening is recommended at a much younger age than it is actually recommended for screening of colon cancer. It is quite fortunate though that this form of colon cancer is extremely few in number.
How Can Colon Polyps Be Prevented?
To prevent formation of colon polyps an individual can follow the following instructions:
- Eat plenty of fruits, vegetables and grains.
- Reduce intake of fatty food.
- Try and consume minimal alcohol.
- Tobacco cessation.
- Maintain an ideal body weight and try and stay active.
- Try and maintain adequate calcium in the diet as it has been shown in some studies that calcium reduces the risk of formation of polyps, although its effect in colon cancer is still not known.