A colon polyp is a growth of extra tissue in the lining of the rectum or colon. It is a benign tumor that can usually be removed during a colonoscopy.
Most colon cancers develop from precancerous polyps called adenomatous polyp or sessile serrated polyp (SSP). If an adenomatous polyp or SSP is left to grow in the colon, it can become malignant over time. Therefore, by removing these polyps early, the chances of developing colon cancer are significantly reduced.
People who have a higher risk of adenomatous polyps include those who are 45 and older, who have had polyps previously, or who have a family history of polyps or colon cancer. However, not having a family history of the disease does not eliminate the risk. In fact, 80 percent of those diagnosed with colon cancer have no family history.
Polyps generally do not cause symptoms. If a patient does have symptoms, they can include blood in their underwear or on toilet paper after a bowel movement, blood in stool, or constipation or diarrhea that has lasted more than a week.
Getting screened is the first step in preventing colon cancer. Several screening options are available, including colonoscopy and flexible sigmoidoscopy. Regular colonoscopies should begin at age 45 for people with an average risk of developing colon cancer. If you have a family history of polyps or colon cancer, many physicians may recommend getting your first colonoscopy at age 40 or even earlier, depending on your history. Some recent studies indicate that African Americans may need to start screening early than age 45. More frequent and earlier screening is recommended if you are at high risk for colon cancer.