Early detection and removal of colon and/or rectal polyps can prevent colon cancer. These polyps are broadly defined as small growths, usually benign and precancerous, on the wall of the colon or rectum (also known as the large intestine). Precancerous polyps are known to potentially progress to colorectal cancer over time if not removed. However, some types of colon and rectal polyps do not progress to cancer and are completely benign.

Colon polyps rarely cause symptoms and are usually found when a colonoscopy is performed as a screening test or to investigate unrelated symptoms

Colon polyps symptoms

You can develop colon polyps and not know it, because colon polyps typically don’t cause symptoms. They’re usually discovered during routine screening tests for colorectal cancer. If polyps become large, they may cause symptoms, which can include:

  • Rectal bleeding
  • Change in stool color (blood can show up as red streaks in your stool or make stool look black)
  • Change in bowel habits, such as constipation or diarrhea that lasts longer than a week, or going to the bathroom more often or less often than usual
  • Abdominal pain
  • Iron deficiency anemia

Colon polyps causes

You’re more likely to have colon polyps if…

  • You’re over 50
  • Colon polyps and/or colorectal cancer runs in your family
  • You’ve inherited a gene that causes you to develop polyps. Those with this genetic makeup are much more likely to get the kind of polyps that turn into colorectal cancer

Colon polyps⁠–⁠cancer screening, diagnosis and prevention

The best way to catch colorectal cancer is through screening tests. Patients often don’t have symptoms during early stages of colon cancer. In addition, removing polyps can reduce the odds that cancer develops in the first place. The most common precancerous polyp is called an adenoma.

Most medical societies endorse colonoscopy as the preferred screening method. For high-risk patients, specialized testing for genetic syndromes may also be recommended. However, other evidence-based screening tests for average-risk individuals include stool-based testing, CT colonography, flexible sigmoidoscopy and colon capsule endoscopy.

Based on your own personal risk for colon polyps and cancer, an ideal screening schedule will be identified. This usually includes a colonoscopy, but may also include stool-based testing. It is especially important for patients with a family history of colon cancer or polyps, or with a genetic colon cancer syndrome to be screened more frequently.

Colon polyps⁠–⁠innovative treatment options

Treatment focuses on clarifying the personal risk for colon polyps and cancer for each patient and forming an optimal monitoring program to minimize that risk. This primarily includes colonoscopy, which has been proven to decrease the risk of colorectal cancer, but can also include stool-based testing.

Hereditary Colon Cancer Syndrome Clinic

The Ohio State University Wexner Medical Center specializes in the diagnosis and treatment of hereditary colon cancer syndromes. Peter Stanich, MD, is one of the nation’s leading experts in the field and works in the multidisciplinary hereditary colon cancer syndrome clinic along with genetic counselors at The Ohio State University Comprehensive Cancer Center – Arthur G. James Cancer Hospital and Richard J. Solove Research Institute. He is among only a few specialists nationwide with expertise in diagnosing and treating PTEN hamartoma tumor syndrome (Cowden syndrome).

His work in identifying this and other hereditary syndromes aims at early diagnosis and, ultimately, prevention of cancer. Through genetic testing, patients can receive regular colonoscopy screening to reduce their risk of colon cancer.

Some of the most common genetic colon cancer syndromes are:

  • Lynch syndrome
  • Familial adenomatous polyposis (FAP)
  • MUTYH-associated polyposis
  • Peutz-Jeghers syndrome
  • Juvenile polyposis syndrome
  • PTEN hamartoma tumor syndrome (Cowden syndrome)

Colon Cancer Epigenetic Counseling Clinic

Diet and lifestyle are connected to as much as 70% of colon cancers. Hisham Hussan, MD, works in a multidisciplinary colon cancer clinic where he performs epigenetic (diet and lifestyle) counseling for colon cancer prevention in patients at high risk for colorectal cancer. His research focuses on the connection between the microbiome, lifestyle, obesity and colon cancer risk. These efforts are aided by his involvement with The Ohio State University Comprehensive Cancer Center’s Molecular Carcinogenesis and Chemoprevention (MCC) program.

Minimally invasive procedures

Ohio State offers minimally invasive alternatives for testing and treatment.

Endoscopic mucosal resection (EMR)

Patients who would otherwise need colon surgery (colectomy) to remove complex polyps can be referred for an endoscopic mucosal resection (EMR) instead. This less invasive procedure uses a thin, lighted tube (an endoscope) inserted through a small incision to access and repair any portion of the large intestine. EMR is done on an outpatient basis, and patients typically return home the same day and enjoy a faster recovery.

Precancerous tissue testing and colon polyp removal

To effectively detect or remove precancerous tissue, including those that may be more subtle or difficult to see, Ohio State colorectal specialists can perform highly technical procedures not as readily available at other hospitals. These include colonic chromoendoscopy or esophageal, gastric and colonic confocal laser endomicroscopy.

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