Puzzled about polyps?

polypWhen people go in for a routine colonoscopy they may hear the word “polyp” tossed around. If you’re unsure about polyps but were too anxious to ask, we have answers.

Scott & White colorectal surgeon Rahila Essani, MD specializes in care relating to the colon and the rectum. She offers some insight about polyps, as they are fairly common.

“Some studies have reported 35 percent chance of developing a polyp in people over the age of 50,” says Dr. Essani.

Polyps are an Extra Growth

Polyps are extra growth in the lining of colon or rectum. Colon polyps can be raised or flat.

  • Raised colon polyps are growths shaped like mushrooms and look as though they are on a stem or stalk.
  • Flat colon polyps look like a bed of moss.

Dr. Essani says all polyps are initially non-cancerous (benign) and sometimes a person can have more than one polyp.

“Over time polyps can turn intro pre-cancerous polyps,” says Dr. Essani. “Colon and rectal cancer usually start from polyps. People are also more likely to develop cancerous polyps after age 50.”

As you attend your routine screenings, your doctor may recommend removing polyps to help prevent cancer of the colon and rectum.

Keep in mind that most people with polyps do not have any symptoms. This is why it is important to have a screening colonoscopy starting at age 50, or even earlier if there are symptoms or family history of colon cancer.

“If caught early colon cancer can be curative,” says Dr. Essani. “If the polyps are large or there is early cancer, we perform colon resection to prevent the cancer from spreading.”

Risk Factors for Polyps

Anyone can develop colon polyps; however, some people are more likely to develop them than others.

People who may have a greater chance of developing polyps if they:

  • Are 50 years of age or older.
  • Had polyps before.
  • Have a family member with polyps or cancer of the colon or rectum.
  • Have a large number of polyps in their colon (known as polyposis syndromes or cancer family syndrome).
  • Are African American, as they are more likely to develop cancerous polyps.

In addition to those risk factors, people with certain health problems are more likely to develop polyps.

People who may have a greater chance of developing polyps if they have:

  • Inflammatory bowel disease which is an autoimmune condition causing inflammation and irritation in the intestines. Dr. Essani says the most common types of inflammatory bowel disease are ulcerative colitis and chron’s disease.
  • Type 2 diabetes. Diabetes means the blood glucose, also called blood sugar, is too high. Type 2 diabetes (formerly called adult-onset diabetes) is the most common form of diabetes.
  • A history of breast, uterine or ovarian cancer.

What You Can Do to Avoid Polyps

If you’re nervous about developing polyps, there are a few things you can do. Most important is to stay on top of your colonoscopy screening. This is the best way to know if you have polyps that may turn cancerous over time.

Dr. Essani and others perform these screenings and are well trained to prevent polyps from turning into cancer. She says there are also a few lifestyle changes you can make to help you avoid getting polyps.

People may also be more likely to develop colon polyps if they:

  • Weigh too much.
  • Don’t exercise.
  • Eat a lot of fatty foods.
  • Eat a lot of red meats, such as beef and pork.
  • Eat a lot of processed meats, such as bacon, sausage, hot dogs and lunch meats.
  • Smoke cigarettes.
  • Drink alcohol.

If you fit some of these risk factors for polyps, talk to your doctor.

About the author

Jill Taylor
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I contribute content and skills as a freelance writer for Baylor Scott & White Health. I enjoy improving our connection with our readers, patients and communities by assisting with a wide range of writing projects.

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Puzzled about polyps?