Dear Dr. Levister: I had several polyps removed from my colon. Are all such growths a sign of cancer? J.E.
Dear J.E.: A colon polyp is a growth on the surface of the colon, also called the large intestine. Some colon polyps are benign, which means they are not cancer. Anyone can get colon polyps, but certain people are more likely to get them than others. Some types of polyps may already be cancer or can become cancer. Sometimes, a person can have more than one colon polyp. Colon polyps can be raised or flat.
You may have a greater chance of getting polyps if you’re 50 years of age; have a history of polyps; someone in your family has had polyps; someone in your family has had colon cancer or you’ve had uterine or ovarian cancer before age 50.
The large intestine is the long, hollow tube at the end of your digestive tract. The large intestine absorbs water from stool and changes it from a liquid to a solid. Stool is the waste that passes through the rectum and anus as a bowel movement. Here are some points to remember:
Flat polyps can be smaller and harder to see and are more likely to be cancer than raised polyps. Polyps can usually be removed during colonoscopy—the test used to check for colon polyps. Most people with colon polyps do not have symptoms. Symptoms may include constipation or diarrhea for more than a week or blood on your underwear, on toilet paper, or in your stool. Doctors remove most colon polyps and test them for cancer. Talk with your doctor about getting tested for colon polyps if you’re 50 years of age or older or earlier if you have symptoms or someone in your family has had polyps or colon cancer.
You may also be more likely to get colon polyps if you eat a lot of fatty foods, smoke, drink alcohol, don’t exercise, or weigh too much. Most people with colon polyps do not have symptoms. Often, people don’t know they have one until the doctor finds it during a regular checkup or while testing for something else.
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