What is a colonic polyp?

Colonic polyps are tiny growths which occur on the inside lining of the large bowel /colon. Colonic polyps are very common and generally are benign. However, some polyps may develop into bowel cancer over time and for this reason polyps are removed to prevent this from occuring.

The most sensitive way of detecting colonic polyps is through a colonoscopy. The advantage of colonoscopy is that once the polyps are detected they can be removed at the same procedure.

How common are colonic polyps?

Colonic polyps are common and increase with age. They occur in approximately 30-50% of adults.

Why did I develop a colonic polyp?

Colonic polyps tend a develop though a comination of a genetic predisposition and lifestyle factors, that include high fat diet, low fibre diet, diet high in red meat, obesity and smoking. Having a family of polyps or bowel cancer is also common. There are some genetic diseases (e.g. familial adenomatous polyposis coli) which can cause many colonic polyps to form in early adulthood, and subsequent higher risk of bowel cancer.

In general, you are at higher risk of having colonic polyps if:

  • you are older than 50
  • you have had polyps before
  • there is a family history of polyps
  • there is a family history of bowel cancer

You should talk to your doctor if you fit into any of these categories.

What are the symptoms of a colonic polyp?

In general colonic polyps are asymptomatic but may present with bleeding fromt he back passage if they are large.

What are the chances of a colonic polyp developing into cancer?

The chance of a cancer forming is determined by the type, size and number of polyps found. In general, large adenomatous polyps are associated with the highest risk.

What is the management for a colonic polyp?

Once a polyp is detected the aim is to remove / resect the polyp at a colonoscopy. The removal of the polyp reduces the risk of developing bowel cancer in the future.

Do I need any follow up after colonic polypectomy?

People who have adenomatous polyps have a higher rate of forming new polyps over time. Consequently a repeat colonoscopy is recommended. A number of factors determine the time interval for a repeat colonoscopy including: microscopic characteristics of the polyp (histology), number, size, appearance at colonoscopy, adequacy of bowel preparation.

Do my family members need testing if I have colonic polyps?

In general, all people should undergo bowel cancer screening at age 50. However, earlier screening may be recommended in first degree relatives of people who have been diagnosed with either adenomatous polyps or bowel cancer before the age of 55. Earlier screening may also be recommended if polyps/bowel cancer has been detected in multple family members.