What are colorectal polyps?
A colorectal polyp is a growth that forms on the lining of the colon. Some of these growths are harmless. Others can turn into cancer. Colorectal cancer is the third most common cause of cancer deaths in the United States. There are usually no symptoms until the condition gets worse. That's why regular doctor visits are so important, especially as you age.
Causes of colorectal polyps
Usually, the cells in your body divide neatly and regularly as part of their cell cycle. But sometimes, cells don't do this process the way they're supposed to. They may start dividing and creating new cells at a faster rate or even if your body doesn't need the new cells. When this abnormal growth happens in your rectum or colon, it can cause polyps to form.
Risks of colorectal polyps
Doctors don't know the exact reason why some people are more likely to develop colorectal polyps. People who are over the age of 50 and overweight are more likely to get them. If your family members have had polyps or colon cancer, you're also at greater risk. People with uncontrolled Type 2 diabetes are also at risk. Lifestyle behaviors can play a role in getting colorectal polyps.
These risks include:
- Not being active
- Drinking excess alcohol
- Eating a high-fat diet with a lot of red meat
Other less-common risk factors include:
- Having ovarian or uterine cancer before the age of 50
- Having other genetic conditions, such as Lynch syndrome or Gardner's syndrome
Symptoms of colorectal polyps
Some people show no symptoms of colorectal polyps. Others have specific symptoms. These are things you should share with your doctor when you first notice them. The most serious is rectal bleeding. This can be a sign of cancer or another condition like hemorrhoids.
Other symptoms include:
- Dark or bloody stool
- Cramps in your stomach or intestines
- Constipation or diarrhea that lasts more than a week
- Iron deficiency, caused by slow bleeding of the polyp, that may also make you feel tired
Diagnosis of colorectal polyps
Your doctor looks for polyps through a procedure called a colonoscopy. They look inside your body with small cameras and other tools. This process starts with limiting high-fiber foods a few days before going into the doctor's office or clinic. You may have to have a laxative drink. This can clear out your colon before the procedure. During the appointment, you take medication that makes you go to sleep for the procedure. Then, your doctor examines your colon for polyps. It takes about an hour. Your doctor might also want a stool sample from you.
Treatments for colorectal polyps
Colonoscopies are helpful because your doctor can remove polyps during the examination. After removing the polyp, your doctor can send the tissue to a laboratory. They'll determine whether it's cancerous or not.
You might need a separate surgery if the polyp is very large. Your doctor can make a small cut in your stomach to remove the polyp. They also use small cameras and tools designed specifically for this kind of surgery.
Lifestyle changes can help prevent future polyps. Your long-term changes might include:
- Limiting alcohol and tobacco
- Becoming more physically active
- Improving your diet with more fruits and vegetables
Having a regular colonoscopy, especially after the age of 45, is a helpful way to discover and treat colorectal polyps. Your doctor can find them before they become something serious. The earlier your doctor discovers this condition, the easier it can be to treat it.
Recovery from colorectal polyps
The length of time it takes to recover depends on whether your polyps are cancerous. If they are, discuss options with your doctor. Otherwise, you may soon be able to return to normal activities. Trying new lifestyle changes can help you feel better. It can also reduce your risk of future polyps. You can also try increasing your intake of calcium and vitamin D to help keep your colon healthy.