A polyp is an abnormal growth of tissue protruding from the mucous membrane of some internal organs – the mucous membrane is the protective lining on the inner walls of these organs. When such an unwanted growth occurs inside the large intestine, it is called a colon polyp.
All polyps result from abnormal cell division and growth. Colon polyps are somewhat like tumors, but quite harmless if small in size. But polyps larger than a pea can prove dangerous because they can gradually turn into cancer.
Anyone can develop colon polyps. But people over 50 years of age are more likely to get them. About 30% of adults in this age group develop this condition. There are some other factors too that increase the chances of developing colon polyps: for example, smoking, alcohol, being overweight, eating fatty foods, not eating enough fruits, vegetables and whole grains.
The odds also increase if close family members have had colon polyps or colorectal cancer. Sometimes chronic inflammatory disease of the large intestine may also result in the formation of the polyps.
Are There Any External Symptoms of Colon Polyps?
In general, small colon polyps don’t present any noticeable external symptoms. In fact, they get discovered accidentally during a routine checkup or while checking for another problem. But larger colon polyps do produce significant symptoms. Some common symptoms experienced by people having large polyps are:
- Bleeding from the anus after passing stools.
- Blood in the stool, which lends it blackish appearance or shows as reddish streaks.
- Constipation or diarrhea for more than a week.
- Cramp-like abdominal pain accompanied by severe constipation.
The occurrence of these symptoms calls for immediate action in terms of a thorough medical checkup.
Detecting and Treating Colon Polyps
The doctors use a number of diagnostic techniques to investigate colon polyps. Internal imaging techniques are used to get the inside picture of the large intestine on a monitor. The polyps are spotted and studied for their size and other characteristics.
Whether small or large, all colon polyps require to be tested for cancer. So the doctors prefer to remove all polyps, whether harmful or not. This is done using special surgical instruments. The removed polyps are then tested in a lab for cancer. If found cancerous, then further treatment is necessary to ensure that they don’t recur. If not, no further treatment may be required.
Are Polyps Preventable?
There is no foolproof method to prevent colon polyps from forming. But doctors do recommend some diet tips to minimize the chances of developing this disease. These are:
- Eat plenty of fresh fruits and vegetables to avoid constipation and maintain optimum colon health.
- Drink 8–10 glasses of plain water.
- Eat foods rich in calcium and folate, e.g., low-fat milk and cheese, broccoli, cauliflower, chickpeas, kidney beans, spinach, etc.
- Exercise regularly.
- Avoid eating too much fatty foods.
- Avoid being overweight.
- Quit smoking.
- Avoid alcoholic beverages as far as possible.
Colon polyps are unwanted lumps of tissue growing inside the colon. They can spell grave danger if they turn cancerous – which they do in many cases. Since small polyps present no symptoms, regular colon screening is recommended for all after age 50. This allows colon polyps to be detected when they are still very small and harmless. If detected in time, they can be safely removed and prevented from developing into cancer.