Polyps are growths in the colon or rectum. They protrude into the lining of the intestine and can be flat or have a stalk. Polyps are one of the most common conditions affecting the colon and rectum. They occur in about 15% to 20% of the adult population and equally in both men and women. The cause of most colon polyps is not known. Although most polyps are benign (harmless or non-cancerous), as they continue to grow they can develop into cancer. One type of polyp called adenomatous is more likely than others to develop into cancer over time. Early diagnosis of adenomatous polyps may help prevent cancer or identify cancer at a stage when it might be treated more successfully. Research has shown that the best way to prevent colon cancer is early detection and removal of polyps.
Almost all colon cancers develop from polyps, but they grow slowly, often over a period of years. Most polyps do not cause symptoms. But large polyps can cause symptoms such as rectal bleeding or a change in bowel habits. Polyps are diagnosed either by looking at the colon lining directly (colonoscopy) or by x-ray study (barium enema). Polyps can be removed or samples of tissue (biopsies) can be taken during a colonoscopy procedure. You will not experience any pain or sensation as the polyp is removed and you can usually resume normal activity the next day.