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Colon Polyps

For the most part, colon polyps are not dangerous. In fact, the majority are benign, which means they do not cause cancer.  Some, however, can turn into cancer if left untreated. Therefore, it is important to treat them effectively in order to keep your body healthy and safe.

Understanding Colon Polyps

Quite simply, polyps are extra tissue that has grown inside your colon or large intestine. This is the part of your digestive system responsible for making and storing your waste. Although most polyps are benign, a slight cause for concern always exists because they can develop into cancer. Polyps smaller than the size of a pea usually do not become cancerous, while larger ones may develop into cancer or may already be cancerous. For these reasons, doctors remove all polyps and have them tested because this is the only way to verify if they are benign.

The Cause of Colon Polyps

There is no exact cause for polyps and, in fact, anyone can develop them and they can occur at any age. There are, however, a few risk factors for increasing your chances of developing this condition. Individuals older than 50, for example, are more likely than younger people to develop polyps since, as age progresses, you become increasingly more likely to develop them.

A person that has a history of polyps in their family or actually developed them in the past is also more likely to develop the problem. Similarly, a person with a relative that has experienced colon cancer is more likely to develop polyps as well.

Certain lifestyle choices can also make you more prone to developing polyps. Eating a diet high in fatty foods, for example, increases your risk of developing colon cancer. Weighing too much and failing to get enough exercise are additional risk factors.

Symptoms of Colon Polyps

For the most part, small polyps do not present any symptoms at all. In fact, most people do not realize they have them until they are discovered during a regular check up or while being tested for something else. For those already experiencing symptoms, they can easily be confused for other disorders. These symptoms include bleeding from the anus, which may be noticed by blood in the underwear or on toilet paper following a bowel movement. A person with polyps may also notice blood in the stool, which may actually look black in the stool or may be characterized by red streaks. Diarrhea or constipation lasting for more than a week is also a possible indicator.

Prevention

Drinking alcohol or smoking also increase your chances of developing colon polyps. Therefore, you can help maintain optimal health by avoiding alcohol and cigarettes, by eating healthy, by exercising on a daily basis, and by losing any excess weight. You can also reduce your chances of developing this condition by increasing the amount of calcium and folate in your diet. Foods such as cheese, broccoli, and milk are all rich in calcium and to add more folate in your diet, increase the amount of spinach, chickpeas, and kidney beans you consume. Some research has indicated taking regular doses of aspirin can also reduce your chances of developing the polyps but be sure to consult your physician before taking anything more than occasional doses of aspirin.

Diagnosis

There are four primary tests a doctor will use. One of these is a digital rectal exam, which involves the doctor examining your rectum for any abnormalities with a gloved finger. In order to take a look deeper inside your colon, the doctor would need to prescribe a barium enema, which involves placing a slightly radioactive liquid inside your rectum and taking x-rays. Or, the doctor may perform a sigmoidoscopy by inserting a flexible tube inside your rectum in order to look at the lower third of your large intestine. In order to look at your entire colon, the doctor would need to perform a colonoscopy. This is the most invasive procedure and, as such, generally requires sedation.

Treating Colon Polyps

Treating colon polyps involves removing them completely. This can usually be done during the sigmoidoscopy or colonoscopy by snaring the polyp with a loop that cuts it off at the stalk and simultaneously cauterizes it. In other cases, the doctor may need to operate on your colon by going through your abdomen. This method is generally reserved for polyps too large to snare during the sigmoidoscopy or colonoscopy.

Regardless of how the colon polyp is removed, it will then be sent off for testing in order to determine if it is cancerous or benign. If it is found to be cancerous, additional surgery or treatment will be necessary. As always, consult a qualified physician if you believe you may be suffering from this serious condition.

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