Colon Polyps and Colon Cancer

Large Intestine

Colon polyps are small lumps of cells that develop in the lining of the colon and have the potential to become cancerous over time. Though not all polyps develop into colon cancer, many cases of colon cancer begin as polyps.

Colon cancer is cancer that develops in the large intestine or rectum, and is often referred to as colorectal cancer.

Colon Polyps

Polyps develop as a result of abnormal cell growth in the colon and rectum. Polyps can develop at any location throughout the large intestine, and can occur in a number of sizes and shapes. The three main classifications of colon polyps are inflammatory, hyperplastic, and adenomatous.

People who suffer from Crohn’s disease or ulcerative colitis are at an increased risk for developing inflammatory colon polyps. Inflammatory polyps are often called pseudopolyps and they do not turn into cancer.

About half of all colon polyps are hyperplastic. These polyps develop in the lower portion of the colon and rectum and have little or no risk to develop into cancer.

Adenomatous polyps are the most common type of colon polyps, and are the type most frequently removed during colonoscopy. This type of polyp is strongly associated with colon cancer. There are different types of Adenomatous polyps including: Tubular, Villous, Tubulovillous, and Serrated.

Most often colon polyps do not cause symptoms, so regular checkups with your doctor and screening for colon cancer is a critical part of detection. People over the age of fifty, or those with a personal or family history of either colon polyps or colon cancer are often recommended to undergo routine screenings for colon cancer. Though symptoms of polyps are rare, if they do occur they are most likely to be blood on underwear or toilet paper following a bowel movement, visible blood in the stool, or prolonged periods of constipation or diarrhea.

Colon Cancer

Colon cancer or colorectal cancer is cancer of the large intestine that often starts as small clumps of cells called adenomatous polyps in the lining of the colon and rectum.

Colon cancer is one of the leading causes of cancer-related death in the United States However, most cases of colon cancer develop as polyps that slowly progress into cancer, which means early detection and treatment can lead to a complete cure.

There is no single cause of colon cancer, but there are certain factors that may increase your likelihood of developing the condition, such as:

  • Being over the age of 50
  • Of African American or Eastern European descent
  • Consume a diet that is high in red or processed meats
  • Have a personal history of other types of cancer, like breast cancer
  • Have a history of colorectal polyps
  • Have a history of inflammatory bowel disease
  • Have a family history of colon cancer

In addition to these factors, certain genetic syndromes such as Familial adenomatous polyposis (FAP) or Hereditary nonpolyposis colorectal cancer (HNPCC), also known as Lynch Syndrome may increase susceptibility to colon cancer.

For many individuals there are no signs or symptoms associated with colon cancer, but if symptoms do occur they may include:

  • Abdominal pain, or tenderness in the lower abdomen
  • Blood in stool
  • Diarrhea
  • Constipation
  • Narrow stools
  • Unexpected weight loss

Diagnosis

Through early detection and screening, colon cancer can be treated before symptoms develop. Screening tests help your gastroenterologist to discover colon polyps before they become cancerous. Your gastroenterologist may recommend certain examinations as part of routine screening, or as a result of signs or symptoms that could indicate the presence of colon polyps or colon cancer.

If your gastroenterologist recommends that you undergo screening for colon cancer, he may suggest a colonoscopy, or a number of other examinations including genetic testing, blood tests, barium enema with x-ray or a flexible sigmoidoscopy. If polyps are detected during a colonoscopy exam, they can often be removed at that time, and a biopsy or tissue sample can also be obtained for further testing.

Treatment

Despite the fact that many polyps are not malignant, your physician will likely recommend that any polyps that develop are removed and examined to determine if it is cancerous or not. Often, polyps can be removed by your gastroenterologist during a colonoscopy exam. If colon cancer is present, then there are a variety of treatment options that may be beneficial for you, including chemotherapy and radiation therapy.

Your gastroenterologist will discuss the best type of treatment for colon polyps and colon cancer available for you, and will explain any benefits or risks that are associated with the treatment options.

For more information about colon polyps or colon cancer please contact us to schedule an appointment.