Jefferson University Hospitals

What are Colorectal Polyps?

Colorectal polyps are bumps or growths on the inside lining of the colon or rectum - the lowest portion of the colon (also referred to as the large intestine). Colon cancer is believed to begin as polyps since develops in or at the site of polyps.

Since 90 to 95 percent of all colon cancers stem from polyps, removing them helps to prevent cancer.

What Does it Mean if Colorectal Polyps are Found?

There are two types of benign polyps that are related to colon cancer.

  • Hyperplastic polyps are usually very small and were formerly thought to not increase the risk of cancer. Now there is evidence to show that there is an increased risk of cancer if a patient has more than 30 hyperplastic polyps at the initial exam.
  • If the polyps found are adenomas, there is an associated risk of colon cancer, and these patients need to be screened at least every five years because they are definitely at risk for forming new polyps, and it is imperative that repeat colonoscopy be done on a regular basis.

According to the statistics about 75 percent of cases occur in patients who have no predisposing risk factors.

If your doctor finds a small polyp, he or she will usually remove it, often in the same endoscopic exam. Even if the polyp does not appear cancerous, it may become cancerous; therefore, it is normally taken out. The Hospital’s lab will examine the polyp to see if it has any areas indicating cancer.

If your doctor sees a large polyp, tumor or other abnormality, the first step may be a biopsy. The specialist takes out a small piece of tissue through the colonoscope. Examining the tissue helps determine if the area is cancerous or benign, or the result of inflammation.

Your medical team may use a follow-up colonoscopy procedure to remove small, limited areas of precancerous or early- cancerous tissue or discrete tumor. For more significant or established cancer (higher-stage cancer), abdominal surgery may be necessary.

Do I need a second opinion?

Polyp removal is a widely accepted preventive step; however, treatment decisions for actual colorectal cancer can be more complex. Before starting such treatment, patients might want another doctor to review the diagnosis and the treatment plan. Here are ways to find another doctor for a second opinion:

  • Patients can call the Jefferson Cancer Network at 1-800-JEFF-NOW.
  • Ask your doctor to suggest a colon cancer specialist.
  • Contact a local medical society, nearby hospital or medical school.

Are Polyps in the Colon Common?

Colon polyps are common. Studies suggest that at least 30 percent of middle-aged people in the U.S. have colon polyps and others quote findings up to 50 percent of people over 60 years of age.

The risk of developing colon cancer is increased if the colon polyp is larger and number of polyps are found at the initial exam and following exams. If a polyp is larger than 1 centimeter, there is a greater risk that it contains cancer cells.