Doctor's Notes on Colon Polyps
Colon polyps are usually benign (noncancerous), slow-growing tumors that arise from the epithelial cells in the colon (large intestine). Benign colon polyps do not invade nearby tissue or spread to other parts of the body (metastasize) and they are common in many people and increase in occurrence as people age. The cause of colon polyps is unknown but risk factors that may contribute to colon polyp development include a family history, diet, genetics, and advanced age.
Often colon polyps do not cause any symptoms. When symptoms of colon polyps do occur, pain is uncommon. Symptoms may include:
- rectal bleeding,
- anemia (fatigue, shortness of breath, skin pallor),
- diarrhea or constipation,
- decreased stool size,
- black stools,
- abdominal pain,
- nausea and/or vomiting, and
- intussusception (the colon folds into itself or telescopes).
What Is the Treatment for Colon Polyps?
Surgical removal is the primary treatment for colon polyps:
- In most cases, polyps can be removed during a screening examination such as a colonoscopy.
- If a polyp is too large to be removed during a screening procedure, a special surgical procedure may be needed in which a small portion of the bowel is removed.
- People who have rare, inherited conditions that are associated with numerous polyps and a high risk of cancer may undergo surgical removal of the colon and rectum to prevent the development of cancer.
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Colon Cancer and Genetic TestingGenetic tests can determine the risk of colon cancer in people who have a history of the disease in their family; there are specific gene mutations researchers have discovered. Unfortunately, this is only helpful to a minority of patients because familial colon cancer comprises only about five percent of colon cancer cases.
Colon Cancer vs. Hemorrhoid SymptomsColon cancer and hemorrhoids are different problems that affect the colon, rectum, and anus. Colon cancer is caused by abnormal cells in the colon multiplying, creating cancerous tumors. Hemorrhoids are painful swollen blood vessels and inflamed hemorrhoidal tissue. There are three types of hemorrhoids, internal, external, and thrombosed (ruptured). Hemorrhoids can lead to colon cancer. Similar signs and symptoms of colon cancer and hemorrhoids include rectal bleeding, blood in the stool, and feeling as if you haven't finished a bowel movement. Colon cancer symptoms that do not occur with hemorrhoids are unexplained nausea, vomiting, and abdominal pain. Hemorrhoid symptoms that do not occur in colon cancer are pain as the hemorrhoid swells or ruptures, anal itching, and a lump outside of the anus. Colon cancer is a growth of abnormal cells in the colon that continue to multiply, which causes cancerous tumors. Hemorrhoids are swollen blood vessels and inflammation near the anus. There are three types of hemorrhoids, internal, external, and ruptured. Hemorrhoids can lead to colon cancer. Both colon cancer and hemorrhoids can cause rectal bleeding, blood mixed in the stool, and the feeling that you have not completed a bowel movement. Colon cancer symptoms that are different from hemorrhoids are abdominal pain, unexplained nausea and vomiting, narrow or ribbon-like stools, and constipation.
Colonoscopy ProcedureColonoscopy is a procedure used to view the inside of the colon. Reasons for colonoscopy is to detect or diagnose diseases of the colon, for example, Crohn’s disease, ulcerative colitis, other types of colitis, colon polyps, colon cancer, diverticulitis, and other bowel and rectal diseases. Risks for colonoscopy include colon perforation, infection, or bleeding.
Intussusception: In Babies, Children, and AdultsIntussusception is a type of bowel blockage caused when the bowel folds into itself like a telescope. Intussusception rarely occurs and is most likely to happen during a baby's first year of life. Most of the time, the cause of intussusception is not known. There also is a small risk of intussusception from rotavirus vaccination. Symptoms and signs of intussusception are stomach pain along with severe crying, vomiting, blood in the stool, and the baby or child could appear weak or very irritable. If you think it is intussusception, call a doctor right away or go to the Emergency Department, and let them know when your baby got the rotavirus vaccine.
Rectal BleedingRectal bleeding can be mild or seriouis, evern life-threatening. Causes of rectal bleeding include trauma, inflammation of the bowel, hemorrhoids, anal fissures, polyps, and tumors. Treatment of rectal bleeding depends on the cause and may include medication or surgery.
Stool Color ChangesStool color changes and textures to black, tarry, sticky, red, maroon, clay-colored, gray, pale, and yellow can have a variety of causes. Causes include hemorrhoids, pancreatitis, tumors, alcohol abuse, liver disease, cystic fibrosis, celiac disease, cancers, Crohn's disease, ulcerative colitis, diverticular bleeding due to diverticulitis, medication, changes in diet, and other conditions. Treatment of changes in stool color depend on the cause.
Kasper, D.L., et al., eds. Harrison's Principles of Internal Medicine, 19th Ed. United States: McGraw-Hill Education, 2015.