Colon Polyps

  • Medical Author:
    Jay W. Marks, MD

    Jay W. Marks, MD, is a board-certified internist and gastroenterologist. He graduated from Yale University School of Medicine and trained in internal medicine and gastroenterology at UCLA/Cedars-Sinai Medical Center in Los Angeles.

  • Medical Editor: Bhupinder Anand, MD

Colon Cancer Symptoms

Colon cancer or colorectal cancer often begins as a benign growth known as a colon polyp. After the disease begins to spread, it can produce signs and symptoms like

  • blood in the stool,
  • changes in bowel patterns (like diarrhea or constipation),
  • abdominal pain,
  • weight loss, or
  • fatigue.

Quick GuideColon Cancer: Symptoms, Signs, Screening, Stages

Colon Cancer: Symptoms, Signs, Screening, Stages

Colon polyp facts

  • Colon polyps are growths on the inner lining of the colon and are very common.
  • Colon polyps are important because they may be, or may become malignant (cancerous). They also are important because based on their size, number, and microscopic anatomy (histology); they can predict which patients are more likely to develop more polyps and colon cancer.
  • Changes in the genetic material of cells lining the colon are the cause of polyps.
  • There are different types of colon polyps with differing tendencies to become malignant and abilities to predict the development of more polyps and cancer. It is important to recognize families with members who have familial genetic conditions causing polyps because some of these conditions are associated with a very high incidence of colon cancer, and the cancer can be prevented or discovered early.
  • Only a small proportion of polyps cause symptoms or signs. When they do, the symptoms and signs usually are the result of bleeding from the polyp and may include
    • red blood mixed with stool
    • red blood on the surface of stools
    • black stools
    • weakness
    • light-headedness,
    • fainting, and
    • pale skin.
  • Colon polyps are diagnosed by endoscopic colonoscopy, virtual colonoscopy, barium enema, and flexible sigmoidoscopy.
  • Colon polyps are treated by endoscopic removal and occasionally by surgery.
  • Follow-up surveillance of patients with colon polyps depends on the presence of a family history of cancer, the number of polyps that are found, the size of the polyps, and the polyps' histology, and can vary between three and ten years.
  • Treatments to prevent colon polyps are being pursued actively.

What are colon polyps?

Colon polyps are growths that occur on the inner lining of the large intestine (colon) and usually protrude into the colon. Polyps form when the genetic material within the cells lining the colon changes and becomes abnormal (mutates). Normally, the immature cells lining the colon are programmed to divide (multiply), mature, and then die in a very consistent and timely fashion. However, the genetic changes that occur in the lining cells prevents the cells from maturing, and the cells do not die. This leads to an accumulation of immature, genetically abnormal cells, which eventually results in the formation of polyps. The mutations may occur as a sporadic event after birth or they may be present from before birth.

What do colon polyps look like (pictures)?

Most polyps are protrusions from the lining of the intestine.
  • Polypoid polyps look like a mushroom, but flop around inside the intestine because they are attached to the lining of the colon by a thin stalk.
  • Sessile polyps do not have a stalk, and are attached to the lining by a broad base.
  • Flat polyps are the least common type of colon polyp, and are flat or even slightly depressed. These may be difficult to identify because they are not as prominent as polypoid or sessile polyps with the commonly-available methods of diagnosing polyps.

Picture of colon polpys and colon cancer (colorectal).
Picture of colon polyps and colon cancer (colorectal).
Medically Reviewed by a Doctor on 8/16/2016

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