When a surgeon scans the intestinal tract with a colonoscope, one of the goals is to find small, benign growths known as polyps.
The problem with polyps is that they don’t always remain benign. Over time they can become malignant, spreading cancer throughout your colon and beyond. Below, the experienced Atlanta-area doctors of Piedmont Colorectal Associates discuss the detection, treatment and characteristics of polyps.
At first glance, polyps don’t seem very menacing. After all, the sea creature of the same name is pretty docile. And in fact even the most pernicious polyps are slow to act, taking 10 to 15 years to transform from a tiny growth into a growing tumor. That is why screening with colonoscopy is so important, and so effective: The life cycle of a deadly tumor can be ended in the very early stages, preventing the need for invasive treatment, and possibly saving your life.
For something so tiny and morphologically simple, polyps are also a bit of a mystery. Medical researchers aren’t quite sure why they form, and why they are plentiful in some adults and not in others.
Having a close relative with a history of polyps is one possible risk factor, as are diabetes, obesity, smoking, excess consumption of red meat and certain bowel diseases, such as inflammatory bowel disease, ulcerative colitis or Crohn’s disease. Risk also increases over the age of 50. In some rare cases patients suffer from a genetic condition that can produce hundreds of polyps, even at a young age. These conditions include: familial adenomatous polyposis, Peutz-Jeghers syndrome, Lynch syndrome, serrated polyposis syndrome, Gardner’s syndrome, and MYH-associated polyposis.
Although there are several ways to detect polyps, the best choice is colonoscopy. Your surgeon can not only examine the length of the intestine in detail using a colonoscope, but if polyps are found they can be removed during the same procedure. A sigmoidoscopy allows a surgeon to see polyps only in the rectum and lower colon; if any are detected, a subsequent colonoscopy will need to be scheduled to remove them.
Other ways to detect, but not remove, polyps include a barium enema, during which barium is injected into the rectum, allowing polyps to appear as dark spots on high-definition X-ray images. A CT colonoscopy uses advanced radiation imaging to look deep inside the body and see polyps. At the other end of the complexity spectrum is the home stool test, which cannot determine the presence of polyps, but can be used to signal possible anomalies in the intestine and provide the basis for further screening.
For more information on polyps and colonoscopy, or to schedule a personal consultation in Atlanta or Stockbridge with one of our experienced doctors, please contact Piedmont Colorectal Associates today.