What are colon polyps?

A colon polyp is a lump on the lining of the colon (large intestine). A polyp can be flat against the large intestine or raised. If the polyp is flat, it is more likely to be cancerous (malignant). This is because flat polyps are more difficult to detect and remove. More than one polyp may be present.

What are the symptoms of colon polyps?

Most colon polyps do not show any symptoms. Doctors may find them while running routine tests or trying to diagnose another condition. However, when symptoms do occur, they may include:

  • Bleeding from the rectum (the last part of the digestive tract that enables stool to leave the body); blood may show up on underwear or toilet paper after a bowel movement
  • Not having a bowel movement for over a week
  • Having diarrhea for over a week
  • Blood in the stool, which could look black or have red streaks throughout
  • Mucus discharge
  • Abdominal pain (rare)

What causes colon polyps and who gets them?

The cause of polyps is unknown. However, they are found in about 15 to 20% of the adult population. In general, they are more common in people over the age of 50, the age at which doctors suggest that patients get tested for colon polyps. If someone in your family has had colon polyps, earlier testing may be suggested. People with a history of polyps or colon cancer may be more likely to develop polyps. You also have more of a chance of getting polyps if you had ovarian or uterine cancer before the age of 50. The following are additional risk factors for polyps:

What happens if you have a colon polyp?

When a colon polyp is found, a doctor will remove it and test it for cancer. Most polyps are removed during a colonoscopy.

How does a doctor find colon polyps?

There are several ways a doctor can find colon polyps. They include:

  • Colonoscopy—Procedure in which a long, thin, flexible tube is placed through the rectum and into the large intestine. The tube has a camera that shows images on a screen and has a tool to cut off any polyps.
  • Sigmoidoscopy—A thin, flexible tube is inserted through the rectum to examine the last third of the large intestine (sigmoid colon).
  • Computerized tomography (CT) scan—Similar to a colonoscopy, but it takes less time. The tube takes X-rays and pictures of the large intestine. A colonoscopy will be needed if polyps are found.
  • Barium enema—Procedure in which barium is inserted into the rectum and the large intestines are X-rayed.
  • Stool test—You will provide the doctor with a stool sample, which will be sent for testing.

How can you help prevent colon polyps?

Although the cause of colon polyps is not known, you may be able to reduce the risk of developing polyps if you:

  • Avoid alcohol and tobacco
  • Lose any extra weight
  • Eat more fruits and vegetables
  • Avoid fatty foods
  • Eat more calcium (such as milk, cheese, broccoli)
  • Take a low dose of aspirin every day--this might help prevent polyps (Discuss any medication changes/additions with your doctor.)


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This information is provided by the Cleveland Clinic and is not intended to replace the medical advice of your doctor or health care provider. Please consult your health care provider for advice about a specific medical condition. This document was last reviewed on: 2/28/2014…#15370