What Are Polyps?
Polyps are abnormal growths of tissue that develop along the inner lining of the gastrointestinal tract. Polyps are usually flat (although some may have a stalk). Most polyps will not become cancerous; however certain types of polyps are precursors of cancer development.
What Are the Risk Factors for Polyps?
Certain risk factors that may contribute to polyps include:
- Most polyps occur in patients 50 and older
- Family history. Polyps are more likely to develop if a parent, sibling or child has a history of polyps
- Hereditary disorders. In rare cases, a patient may inherit a genetic mutation that causes polyps to form at a rapid rate. Some of these hereditary disorders include familial adenomatous polyposis (FAP), Gardner’s syndrome and Lynch syndrome
- Lifestyle and diet. These types of risk factors may include alcohol consumption, a high-fat diet, low fiber intake, obesity and smoking
- Other existing gastrointestinal conditions, such as inflammatory bowel disease (IBD). IBD includes ulcerative colitis and Crohn’s disease
- African Americans are at higher risk for colon cancer and polyps
What Are the Symptoms of Polyps?
While most polyps do not present with any signs of discomfort, some patients may experience symptoms, such as:
- Abdominal pain
- Bloody stool
- Bowel infrequency
- Excess mucus production
Less common symptoms include iron deficiency anemia and fatigue.
How Are Polyps Treated?
The most common method for preventing and detecting polyps is a colonoscopy. During this procedure, the colon will be examined by a medical professional using a long, lighted instrument called a colonoscope. When polyps are discovered, they are removed for biopsy right away via polypectomy. In some cases, polyps may be too large to remove during a single procedure, so multiple colonoscopies or surgeries may be necessary.
How Are Polyps Prevented?
Lifestyle and diet changes may decrease your chances of developing polyps. Eat a low-fat diet, avoid smoking and limit alcohol consumption. In addition, exercise and eat calcium rich foods.
As an aside, it is recommended that both men and women begin screening for polyps at age 50 since symptoms do not always present.