We can all have colon polyps as they are very common, but are they cancerous? And above all, when are they dangerous? Discover everything you need to know.
Although we always tend to think the worst when in some part of our body we find ourselves -or they find us in the medical consultation- with a lump or tumor, the truth is that in most cases the cause is benign. The same thing happens with those known as polyps, which, contrary to what is usually thought, are not related to cancerous lesions, but they can become a possible cancerous lesion. For this reason, it is common for many doctors to advise their removal as a preventive measure.
This is what normally happens with colon polyps, which, although it is true that they do not tend to be removed unless strictly medically necessary (for example, due to a family or personal history of colon cancer), are studied and followed by the specialist in order to keep track of their evolution.
What are colon polyps?
As we have already explained to you at some point, a polyp is an excessive growth of tissue, basically consisting of an abnormal growth of tissue. Although it can appear in any part of the body (a good example is nasal polyps that arise inside the nose), those known medically as colon polyps are very common.
In this sense, according to the American Society of Colon and Rectal Surgeons, colon polyps consist of the abnormal growth of tissue from the inner layer or mucosa of the large intestine (colon) and that can come to light through the intestinal canal.
It is, in fact, one of the medical problems that most tends to affect both the colon and the rectum, with an estimated 20% of the adult population suffering from it. What’s more, it’s likely that we all have one or more polyps right now and don’t know it, as they become more common with age, as we get older.
Why do colon polyps appear? The causes for which they arise:
From a medical point of view, specialists are not entirely clear about the cause or causes that directly influence the appearance of colon polyps. However, there are some factors that can influence its appearance.
What are those factors? Basically they are the following:
- Family history of colon polyps or cancer of the colon or rectum.
- Existence of an inflammatory bowel disease (Cohn’s disease or ulcerative colitis).
- Certain habits such as smoking.
- Being overweight.
Not surprisingly, even if there is no family history, colon polyps are more common with age, increasing the risk of them appearing in adults.
Symptoms of colon polyps that you should not ignore
Did you know that most people with colon polyps actually have no symptoms? For this reason, the most common or habitual thing is that these are diagnosed in a surprising way before carrying out a medical test, such as the case of a colonoscopy.
However, when colon polyps do produce symptoms, we can summarize them below:
- Blood in the rectum: It is noticed by observing staining in the underwear or in the toilet paper after having cleaned after a bowel movement.
- Blood in the stool: It appears either with bright red spots or streaks in the stool, or when we have black stools.
- Tiredness and weakness: When polyps cause bleeding, anemia and iron deficiency may occur. As a consequence, the person may feel weak and tired.
Are colon polyps dangerous? Are they cancerous?
As we have told you, colon polyps are not cancerous. In fact, in most cases they are benign, which means that they are not cancer and do not spread.
But as many doctors warn, we must bear in mind that most of the time colon or rectal cancer begins as polyps, since over time, as we get older, it is possible that some of these polyps can become cancerous.
In this sense, the most common polyps are those known as adenomatous or adenomas, which are gland-like masses. These develop in the mucous membrane that lines the inside of the large intestine. For this reason, when adenomas become cancerous they are known medically by the name of adenocarcinoma, which is a type of malignant tumor that precisely arises in the cells of glandular tissue.
There is also another type of polyp, known as a villous adenoma, which is sometimes flat and can spread. It is the one with the highest risk of becoming cancer, as it is more likely to become malignant.
However, colon polyps larger than 1 centimeter have a higher risk of becoming cancer, so when the diagnosis is made, it is usual to remove them. The same happens when there is some type of risk factor.
So when is colon polyps removed? Your treatment
Colon polyps are removed when there is a risk factor, such as the presence of a family history of both polyps and colon or rectal cancer, age, and the presence of villous adenomas.
In addition, their removal is also performed when it is diagnosed that the polyp is larger than 1 centimeter, since they have a higher risk of cancer.