So, Your Doctor Found a Colon Polyp. What Now?
If scheduling your colonoscopy makes you cringe, you’re not alone. While the procedure itself is virtually painless, the thought of it is often uncomfortable.
However, colonoscopies – which are recommended for all men and women starting at age 45, or younger, depending on family history – are necessary for early detection and prevention of colon and rectal cancers. The trusted procedure allows providers to find and remove abnormalities before they become harmful.
These abnormalities are medically referred to as polyps.
Are all polyps problematic? The simple answer: no.
To help understand when polyps are a cause for concern and what happens when you have one, we sat down with Jefferson Health – New Jersey General Surgeon, Dr. Linda Szczurek.
The first thing Dr. Szczurek told us is that there are several different types of polyps – the most important category being benign vs. malignant (or non-cancerous vs. cancerous). They may be further categorized as:
- Neoplastic/Adenomatous – the most common type of polyp found, with the greatest chance (around 5%) of turning into cancer.
- Hyperplastic – the second most common type of polyp found, with a very low chance of turning into cancer.
Polyps may also be described by their shape. Pedunculated means they have a stalk, while Sessile means they are flat. While this doesn’t have a direct effect on cancer development, studies show that it may have an indirect effect, as flatter polyps are more likely to be missed. Plus, the larger the polyp, the greater the likelihood for cancer.
How are polyps removed?
Polyps are usually removed using a snare (medical instrument, shaped like a loop, that can snip off the growth and cauterize it), through the colonoscope, explains Dr. Szczurek.
Are all polyps removed during the colonoscopy?
“The majority of polyps are removed during the colonoscopy,” said Dr. Szczurek. “In rare cases where polyps are too large to be safely removed (considered complex), they are biopsied, and additional procedures may be needed.”
Does polyp removal impact recovery time?
Usually, no, says Dr. Szczurek. However, there is a slightly higher risk of bleeding. Minor bleeding from the rectum may occur for 3-4 days following the procedure, but if it persists or is excessive – or is accompanied by signs of infection – you should contact your provider right away.
How long does it take for test results to come back?
Usually within a few days, says Dr. Szczurek.
What happens next?
- Benign polyps: If these were completely removed, you will simply need a follow-up colonoscopy within the next few years. (Exact timing depends on the type and number of polyps you had.) When a benign polyp can’t be removed entirely, due to size/complexity, you will need to be evaluated by a specialist who does advanced endoscopies to see if you qualify for endoscopic resection or surgical resection.
- Malignant polyps: When a polyp is found to be cancerous, it may require further testing, such as imaging and/or bloodwork. You will also need to see a surgeon to set up a colon resection – removal of a section of the colon.
The information above may sound overwhelming, but the facts provide all the more reason why you should get your colonoscopy on time, says Dr. Szczurek. “When polyps are found early, there’s less of a chance of them being cancerous, and when they’re removed early, there’s no chance for them to progress into cancer.”
Keep in mind, you may be at a greater risk for polyps if you:
- Are older than 50
- are overweight and/or lead a sedentary lifestyle
- consume a diet high in red meats
- drink excessively
- have a family history of colorectal cancer
- have a personal history of inflammatory bowel disease.
While rare, there are also some hereditary syndromes that may place you at incredibly high risk for developing polyps, adds Dr. Szczurek, such as Lynch Syndrome and Familial Adenomatous Polyposis.