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STDWatch
Dr. Patricia Shelton

Dec 02, 20227 min read

Colon Polyps: Diagnosis & Treatment

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Colon polyps are common, and they often don’t cause any symptoms. Although some types of polyps are benign, some can become malignant, meaning that they turn into cancer. Many people are worried when they find out that they have colon polyps. They may wonder how to treat polyps, and how to reduce polyps in the future.

How do polyps form?

Usually, the cells in the membrane that lines the intestines are always growing and dividing, in order to maintain a healthy and functional intestinal lining. In some cases, a mutation, or genetic change, in one of these cells can cause it to start growing and dividing more rapidly. This leads to the formation of a polyp. Polyps sometimes cause symptoms like bleeding, although many polyps don’t cause any symptoms.

Do polyps go away?

Sometimes, polyps do go away on their own. However, if you have risk factors for developing polyps, then it’s very likely that you will develop more polyps. If you wait for your polyps to go away on their own, it’s unlikely that you’ll become entirely free of polyps.

In addition, some polyps can become cancerous over time. It’s strongly recommended that these polyps be removed, to prevent them from turning into colon cancer. Although there may be a chance that the polyps will disappear on their own, there’s also a chance that they’ll turn into something much worse.

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Can polyps be removed?

Doctors can remove polyps through a procedure called a colonoscopy. This is a procedure in which a doctor looks inside the colon, using an instrument called a colonoscope. The colonoscope is a long flexible tube with a light and a camera on the end. The patient performs a prep the day before the procedure to clean out the colon. During the procedure, the colon is inflated with air, and the colonoscope is inserted through the anus to allow the doctor to look inside the colon for polyps.

Colorectal polyp treatments

Patients are sometimes worried that they will need surgery to remove colon polyps. They may be nervous about colonoscopy and polyp removal by nonsurgical means often sounds like it would be better. However, there are currently no medications available to get rid of colon polyps. The only way to get rid of colon polyps is through surgical removal, which is almost always accomplished through colonoscopy. 

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How to remove colon polyps

In almost all cases, colon polyps can be removed during a colonoscopy. Specially designed surgical instruments can be passed through the colonoscope, allowing the doctor to remove any polyps that are found. 

Usually, all of the polyps that are found will be removed, so that they can be sent to a lab for analysis. Not all polyps are precancerous; many are benign and will not cause significant issues for most people. However, it’s important to ensure that all precancerous polyps are removed, so that cancer doesn’t develop in the future. The removal of polyps in the colon helps to reduce the risk of colon cancer, even though not all of these polyps will turn out to be concerning.

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Colonoscopy technology has advanced, and many techniques have been developed for successfully removing colon polyps during this procedure. In many cases, it can even allow the removal of large polyps from the colon. Rarely, a person may need a more extensive colon polyp removal surgery, if a polyp is particularly large or is difficult to remove through colonoscopy. 

However, if a polyp is discovered to be cancerous, then the patient will generally need polyp surgery. Removal of a colon cancer is challenging, and it’s important to ensure that the surgery is done properly in order to minimize the chances of getting out all of the cancer cells.

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How to prevent colon polyps

Anyone can potentially develop colon polyps, and not every case can be prevented. However, there are certain actions that you can take to reduce your risk of developing colon polyps. Some of these include:

  • Staying at a healthy weight
  • Eating more fruits and vegetables, and less red meat and processed meat
  • Quitting smoking
  • Reducing alcohol consumption, or quitting drinking
  • Being physically active for at least 20 minutes per day on most days of the week

Taking these actions won’t reduce your risk to zero. It’s still recommended that you get screenings on a regular basis, to address any polyps that you do develop. However, taking these actions towards a more healthy lifestyle will reduce your risk of colon polyps, as well as many other chronic diseases.

There is some research that suggests that nonsteroidal antiinflammatory drugs (NSAIDs), such as ibuprofen (sold as Advil and Motrin) and naproxen (sold as Aleve), may help to decrease the risk of colon cancer in certain people. However, there’s still no evidence that people in the general population will receive a benefit from taking these medications. They can also have dangerous side effects, particularly when they’re taken for a long period of time. Because of these issues, it’s generally not recommended that you start to take these medications as a colon polyps treatment or preventative, unless you’ve discussed the risks and benefits with your doctor and they’ve advised you to take them.

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Sources

Certain foods and drugs may lower risk of colon cancer. Harvard Medical School. https://www.health.harvard.edu/cancer/certain-foods-and-drugs-may-lower-risk-of-colon-cancer. Accessed 22 Nov 2022.

Colonic Polyps Medication. Medscape. https://emedicine.medscape.com/article/172674-medication. Accessed 22 Nov 2022.

Drug Combination Reduces Number of Colorectal Polyps in Patients with Hereditary Cancer Syndrome. National Cancer Institute. https://www.cancer.gov/news-events/cancer-currents-blog/2018/fap-erlotinib-sulindac-colorectal-polyps. Accessed 22 Nov 2022.

Colon polyps. Mayo Clinic. https://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/colon-polyps/diagnosis-treatment/drc-20352881. Accessed 22 Nov 2022.

Mayo Clinic Minute: What you need to know about polyps in your colon. Mayo Clinic. https://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/colon-polyps/multimedia/colon-polyps/vid-20459392. Accessed 22 Nov 2022.

Colon Polyps. Cleveland Clinic. https://my.clevelandclinic.org/health/diseases/15370-colon-polyps. Accessed 22 Nov 2022.

Colon Polyps. National Library of Medicine. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books/NBK430761/. Accessed 22 Nov 2022.

Colon Polyps. American College of Gastroenterology. https://gi.org/topics/colon-polyps/. Accessed 22 Nov 2022.



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