Colorectal cancer may affect a greater proportion of men and aging adults, but it isn’t just an older man’s problem — it’s actually the second leading cause of cancer-related death among men and women combined in the United States today.
Luckily, colorectal cancer is also highly preventable, provided you stay on top of recommended screenings. That’s because having routine colonoscopies is the best way to find colon polyps, or the tiny, benign growths that sometimes lead to colorectal cancer, before they’ve had time to progress.
At Hardeep M. Singh, MD, we know it can be worrisome to hear that you have polyps on the lining of your colon, but don’t panic. Finding polyps is the first step in getting rid of them so you can stop colorectal cancer in its tracks. Here’s what you should know.
Understanding colon polyps
Colon polyps are abnormal cellular clumps that form on the lining of your colon and/or rectum. As a product of uncontrolled cell division, they’re commonly classified as “precancerous” growths, despite the fact that only certain kinds of colon polyps are associated with cancer.
While anyone can develop polyps, they’re more common in men and older adults. Smoking, being overweight, having a family history of polyps or colon cancer, and having an inflammatory bowel disease can increase your risk of developing colon polyps.
Colon polyps fall into two categories:
Neoplastic polyps, including adenomatous polyps (adenomas) and serrated polyps, are the type that can progress into cancer. Doctors remove all neoplastic polyps, no matter what their size, location, or type.
Adenomas account for approximately two-thirds of all colon polyps. Serrated polyps, which are considered less risky than adenomas, may also become cancerous, depending on their size and location. In general, the larger the neoplastic polyp (adenomatous or serrated), the greater the cancer risk.
Non-neoplastic polyps, including hyperplastic polyps and inflammatory polyps, don’t usually become cancerous. Doctors typically remove them anyway, out of an abundance of caution.
Removing colon polyps
When Dr. Singh finds polyps during a colonoscopy, he can’t necessarily tell whether they’re the benign non-neoplastic kind or the more worrisome neoplastic type. To eliminate the chance that cancer will develop from any of these abnormal growths, he removes them right away, during the colonoscopy itself.
Polyp removal (polypectomy) is a standard component of any colonoscopy that reveals the presence of colon polyps. While small to medium-sized polyps can often be fully removed upon discovery, it’s not always possible to remove larger polyps completely in a single procedure.
If Dr. Singh removes any polyps during your colonoscopy, he’ll let you know what he observed during the screening, exactly what he removed (the number, size, and location of your polyps), and what you can expect next.
Identifying colon polyps
After a colonoscopy that includes polyp removal, the biopsied tissue sample is evaluated by a pathologist. It typically takes about a week to find out if your polyps are benign, precancerous, or cancerous.
If any of your polyps are precancerous (neoplastic), Dr. Singh considers the following factors when determining your overall cancer risk:
- Polyp number and type (adenomatous or serrated)
- Polyp location and size (larger polyps are more concerning)
- Family history of polyps and/or colon cancer
If you have a relatively low risk of colon cancer and Dr. Singh only finds one or two very small polyps (less than one centimeter in diameter), he may recommend a follow-up colonoscopy in five years.
If you have an increased risk of colon cancer, or if your polyps are larger, more numerous, or have characteristics that indicate a higher risk of cancer in the future, Dr. Singh will probably advise you to have a follow-up colonoscopy in three years, or possibly sooner.
Determining next steps
If your polyps were adenomatous, there’s a 25% to 30% chance that you’ll develop additional adenomas within a three-year period. Bearing in mind that it can take up to 10 years for a polyp to become cancerous, Dr. Singh will recommend the best course of action for you, depending on your overall cancer risk.
If you had a large polyp that wasn’t removed completely during your initial colonoscopy, Dr. Singh will remove the rest in a follow-up procedure.
Likewise, if you had any abnormal polyps that point to a higher risk of future cancer, Dr. Singh may recommend surgery to remove the section of colon where the polyp (or group of polyps) was found.
No matter what your next steps happen to be, you’re in good hands with Dr. Singh. Call your nearest Hardeep M. Singh, MD office in Orange or Irvine, California, today, or click online to schedule an appointment any time.