Colon Polyps

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Definition & Facts

What are colon polyps?

Colon polyps are growths on the lining of your colon and rectum.You can have more than one colon polyp.

Are colon polyps cancerous?

Colon and rectal cancer most often begins as polyps. Over time, some polyps can become cancerous. Removing polyps can help prevent cancer of the colon and rectum. Colon cancer is one the most common causes of death from cancer.

Who is more likely to develop colon polyps?

Everyone has a chance of developing colon polyps and colon cancer. However, some people are more likely to develop them than others. You may have a greater chance of developing polyps if

Two family members sitting on a couch talking.
You may have a greater chance of polyps if someone in your family has had polyps.

When should I start colon polyp screening?

Screening is testing for diseases when you have no symptoms. Finding and removing polyps can help prevent cancer of the colon or rectum. Your doctor will recommend screening for colon and rectal cancer at age 50 if you don’t have health problems or other factors that make you more likely to develop colorectal cancer.2

If you are at higher risk for colorectal cancer, your doctor may recommend screening at a younger age, and you may need to be tested more often.

If you are older than 75, talk with your doctor about whether you should be screened. For more information, read the current colorectal cancer screening guidelines from the U.S. Preventive Services Task Force (USPSTF).

References

Symptoms & Causes

What are the symptoms of colon polyps?

Most people with colon polyps don’t have symptoms, so you can’t tell that you don’t have polyps because you feel well. When colon polyps do cause symptoms, you may

  • have bleeding from your rectum. You might notice blood on your underwear or on toilet paper after you’ve had a bowel movement.
  • have blood in your stool. Blood can make stool look black, or blood can show up as red streaks in your stool.
  • feel tired because you have anemia and a lack of iron in your body. Bleeding from colon polyps can lead to anemia and a lack of iron.

Many other problems can cause these symptoms. If you have bleeding from your rectum or blood in your stool, you should contact your doctor right away.

What causes colon polyps?

Experts aren’t sure what causes colon polyps. However, research suggests that certain factors, such as age and family history can increase your chances of developing colon polyps. Learn who is more likely to develop colon polyps.

Diagnosis

How does a doctor diagnose colon polyps?

Your doctor can only find colon polyps by using certain tests or procedures. Your doctor may also find polyps while testing you for other problems.

Medical and family history

Taking a medical and family history may help a doctor determine which test is best for you.

Doctor taking a patient's medical history

Physical exam

After taking a medical and family history, your doctor will perform a physical exam to help determine what testing is best for you.

Stool test

A stool test is the analysis of a sample stool.

Your doctor will give you a test kit and instructions for taking a sample at home. For some tests, you may need to change your diet for a few days before the test. You will receive instructions on where to send or take the kit for analysis.

Flexible sigmoidoscopy

Flexible sigmoidoscopy is a procedure that uses a flexible, narrow tube with a light and tiny camera (called a sigmoidoscope) on one end to look inside your rectum and lower colon.

The procedure can show irritated or swollen tissue, ulcers, and polyps. During the procedure, the doctor can take a biopsy. You won’t feel the biopsy.

Colonoscopy

Colonoscopy is a procedure that uses a long, flexible, narrow tube with a light and tiny camera on one end to look inside your rectum and colon (called a colonoscope).

Colonoscopy can show irritated or swollen tissue, ulcers, polyps, and cancer. A trained specialist performs this procedure. The colonoscope has a tool that can remove polyps. A trained specialist typically removes polyps that he or she finds during colonoscopy. A pathologist will check the polyps for cancer.

A patient lying on their side while a doctor performs a colonoscopy and a depiction of the lower GI tract examined during a colonoscopy (including the colon, rectum, colonscope, and anus).
Colonoscopy testing
© October 2014 Terese Winslow LLC,
U.S. Govt. has certain rights

Virtual colonoscopy

Virtual colonoscopy uses computerized tomography (CT) to look inside your rectum and colon. CT machines use a combination of x-rays and computer technology to create images. Virtual colonoscopy can show irritated or swollen tissue, ulcers, and polyps. Doctors can’t remove polyps during virtual colonoscopy. If virtual colonoscopy shows a polyp, doctors will most often recommend a colonoscopy to confirm the diagnosis and remove the polyp.

Lower gastrointestinal (GI) series

A lower GI series is an x-ray that doctors use to look at your large intestine. For the procedure, you’ll be asked to lie on a table while a health care professional inserts a flexible tube into your anus. Next, the health care professional fills your large intestine with barium, which makes polyps show up more clearly on x-rays. Doctors most often use lower GI series in combination with flexible sigmoidoscopy, because flexible sigmoidoscopy doesn’t examine the entire colon.

Treatment

How do doctors treat colon polyps?

Doctors treat colon polyps by removing them.

In most cases, the doctor uses special tools to remove colon polyps during colonoscopy or flexible sigmoidoscopy. During some procedures, doctors may use a special method they call endoscopic mucosal resection to remove some larger polyps. In endoscopic mucosal resection, doctors inject a solution underneath the polyp or apply suction to lift the polyp away from the healthy colon tissue. Doctors then remove the polyp. After the doctor removes polyps, he or she sends them for testing. A pathologist will check the polyps for cancer. Doctors can remove almost all polyps without surgery.

If you have colon polyps, your doctor will ask you to have regular testing in the future because you have a higher chance of developing more polyps.

The lower GI tract includes the large intestine, anus, rectum, and colon. Doctors use a colonoscope to remove polyps from the colon.
The doctor uses special tools to remove colon polyps during colonoscopy

Seek Care Right Away

If you have any of the following symptoms after the removal of a colon polyp, you should call your doctor right away.

  • severe pain in your abdomen
  • fever
  • bloody bowel movements that do not improve
  • bleeding from your anus that does not stop
  • dizziness
  • weakness

How can I prevent colon polyps?

Researchers don't know of a sure way to prevent colon polyps. However, you can take steps to lower your chances of developing colon polyps.

Eating, diet, and nutrition

Eating, diet, and nutrition changes—such as eating more fruits, vegetables, and foods with vitamin D—may lower your chances of developing colon polyps.

Healthy lifestyle choices

You can make the following healthy lifestyle choices to help lower chances of colon polyps:

  • exercise most days of the week
  • don't smoke cigarettes, and if you smoke, quit smoking
  • avoid drinking alcohol
  • lose weight if you are overweight
Person walking a dog.

Aspirin

Taking a low dose of aspirin every day might help prevent polyps. However, taking aspirin daily may cause side effects, such as bleeding in your stomach or intestines. Talk with your doctor before starting to take aspirin daily.

Eating, Diet, & Nutrition

What type of diet is best to prevent colon polyps?

Research suggests that the following changes may have health benefits and may lower your chances of developing colon polyps:

  • eating more fruits and vegetables
  • losing weight if you’re overweight
Person shopping for fruits and vegetables

Some research suggests that getting more calcium and vitamin D may lower your chances of developing polyps. Some foods rich in calcium are

  • milk
  • cheese
  • yogurt
  • broccoli

Foods that contain vitamin D include

  • eggs
  • liver
  • certain kinds of fish, such as salmon

Some companies add vitamin D to their milk and milk products. Also, being outside in the sunlight helps your body make vitamin D. You can also talk with your doctor about taking calcium or vitamin D supplements. For safety reasons, talk with your doctor before using dietary supplements or any other nonmainstream medicine together with or in place of the treatment your doctor prescribes.

What should I avoid eating to prevent colon polyps?

Research suggests that eating less of the following foods may have health benefits and may lower your chances of developing polyps:

  • fatty food
  • red meat, such as beef and pork
  • processed meat, such as bacon, sausage, hot dogs, and lunch meats

Clinical Trials

The National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases (NIDDK) and other components of the National Institutes of Health (NIH) conduct and support basic and clinical research into many digestive disorders.

What are clinical trials and are they right for you?

Clinical trials are part of clinical research and at the heart of all medical advances. Clinical trials look at new ways to prevent, detect, or treat disease. Researchers also use clinical trials to look at other aspects of care, such as improving the quality of life for people with chronic illnesses. Find out if clinical trials are right for you.

What clinical trials are open?

Clinical trials that are currently open and are recruiting can be viewed at www.ClinicalTrials.gov.​

February 2015
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This content is provided as a service of the National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases (NIDDK), part of the National Institutes of Health. The NIDDK translates and disseminates research findings through its clearinghouses and education programs to increase knowledge and understanding about health and disease among patients, health professionals, and the public. Content produced by the NIDDK is carefully reviewed by NIDDK scientists and other experts.