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. There are different types of polyps, and some can eventually grow over time and become cancer.

What causes colon polyps and who gets them?

The cause of polyps is unknown. However, they are found in about 20 to 30% 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. Additional risk factors for polyps include:

  • Smoking
  • Drinking alcohol
  • Not exercising
  • Being overweight

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 more than a week
  • Having diarrhea for over a week
  • Blood in the stool; the stool may look black or have red streaks throughout
  • Mucus discharge
  • Abdominal pain (rare)

The above symptoms are very rarely caused by polyps, however. That is why it is important to get age-appropriate colon cancer screening.

Cleveland Clinic is a non-profit academic medical center. Advertising on our site helps support our mission. We do not endorse non-Cleveland Clinic products or services. Policy