Colon polyps: Detection is key to preventing cancer

According to the Centers for Disease Control, colon cancer is the second-leading cause of cancer deaths in the United States. If you’re aged 50 and older, your chance of being diagnosed with colon cancer increases significantly.

Most colon cancers start in small growths called polyps. The diagnosis and removal of colon polyps is vital to preventing the development of colon cancer.


Types of colon polyps

 Dr. Waqar Qureshi, professor of medicine and clinical chief of gastroenterology at Baylor College of Medicine, says there are two main types of colon polyps – adenomas and hyperplastic polyps.

“Adenomas can develop into cancer, while hyperplastic polyps generally do not. The distinction is usually made in a laboratory under a microscopy where all polyps are sent,” he said.

Polyps and early cancers often go undetected because they exhibit no symptoms. By the time anemia, weight loss or abdominal pain develops, it is often too late for a cure.

“Polyps cause no symptoms unless they become very large. Although it takes about 10 years for a polyp to develop to a cancer, not all polyps become cancers,” he said.

Polyp removal and future colonoscopies

It’s important to continue receiving follow-up colonoscopies after colon polyps are found.

“The majority of colon polyps can be diagnosed and removed at colonoscopy. If a polyp or polyps are found, then a follow-up colonoscopy is required in three or five years depending on the size, number and degree of change within the polyps,” he said.

It is not clear what causes polyps in some people and not in others, but genetics and diet play a role.

“A family history of colon cancer particularly in first degree relatives under age 60, a sedentary lifestyle, diets high in saturated fats, and smoking are risk factors for colon cancer,” he said.

Additional Resources

Three ways to improve gut health

Colon Cancer: Understanding the basics

Simple steps to prevent colon cancer

-By Nicole Blanton

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