What are colon polyps?
The colon is an important part of your digestive system and is shaped much like a long tube with wrinkled walls. It functions to reabsorb water, and to make and move solid waste from the body. A colon polyp is extra tissue that develops inside the large intestine. Most polyps do not pose danger.
What are the varieties?
Most polyps are non-cancerous, or benign. However, some polyps can develop into cancer. Polyps smaller than pea-size are not generally dangerous. Even so, when they find them, Doctors routinely remove polyps and test them. Larger polyps may already be malignant or could become malignant in the future. There are three broad categories:
- Ordinary Polyp - Most polyps develop in people between the ages of 40 and 60. There may be only one or two and they can take ten years or more after forming to develop into a malignancy. There is a hereditary link, so if your parents or siblings have polyps, you are at an increased risk of developing them yourself.
- Hereditary Familial Polyposis - This is a true hereditary condition in which the entire colon is marked with hundreds or thousands of polyps. They can start forming as young as ten years of age. This condition is not common, but nearly every Familial Polyposis patient will eventually develop colon cancer. The only reliable preventive treatment is a colectomy, or removal of the colon.
- Lynch Syndrome (Hereditary Non-Polyposis Colorectal Cancer) - This disorder involves the formation of large numbers of polyps and carries a high risk of cancer. Although still a rare disorder, it occurs more often than familial polyposis but less often than ordinary polyps. There is a strong tendency for polyps to occur in close family members such as sisters, brothers, aunts, uncles and children. More polyps are seen developing at an early age and cancer is seen at earlier ages as well, often starting in the twenties. In some families there is also an increased incidence of breast, ovarian, and other cancers, so it is important for all close blood relatives to be monitored.
Who is likely to get polyps?
Anyone can get polyps, but certain people are more likely to form polyps than others. You may have a greater chance of getting polyps if you:
- are age 50 or older
- have a family member who has had polyps
- have a family member who has had cancer of the large intestine
- have a high intake of fatty foods
- use tobacco
- drink alcohol
- are sedentary
- are overweight.
What are the symptoms of colon polyps?
The majority of small polyps do not cause symptoms. Often, people do not know they have a polyp until the doctor discovers it during a routine checkup or while testing them for something else. But some people do have symptoms such as:
- Rectal bleeding. You might notice blood on your underwear or on toilet paper after a bowel movement.
- Constipation or diarrhea that lasts longer than seven days.
- Blood in the stool. Blood can make stool look black, or it can appear as red streaks in the stool. Consult your doctor if you have noticed these symptoms.
How are colon polyps diagnosed?
Several tests can be used to check for polyps:
- Digital rectal exam. The doctor checks your rectum, the last part of the large intestine, to see if it feels normal. This test would find rectal polyps only.
- Barium enema. A liquid containing barium is placed into your rectum and x rays of your large intestine are taken. Barium allows physicians to see a contrast between normal and abnormal shapes in the colon. On x rays, the normal space inside your intestine looks white, while Polyps appear dark, making them easy to detect.
- Sigmoidoscopy. With this test, the doctor can view the inside of your large intestine. The doctor puts a thin flexible tube (sigmoidoscope) into your rectum. It has a light and a miniature video camera in it, allowing the doctor to view the last third of your large intestine, where most common polyps occur.
- Colonoscopy. This test is like sigmoidoscopy, but involves probing further into the intestines, allowing the doctor to view the entire colon. This test generally requires sedation.
What is the conventional treatment of colon polyps?
Removal of the polyp is the conventional treatment. When the polyps are small, the doctor can actually remove the polyp during a sigmoidoscopy or colonoscopy. For larger or multiple polyps, the doctor may decide to operate through the abdomen. Polyps are biopsied to test for cancer. If you have a history of polyps, the doctor may recommend regular testing.
What therapies does Dr. Weil recommend for colon polyps?
With regard to preventing colon cancer, early detection is key to winning the battle. Once you reach the age of 50, the following tests should be done routinely:
- A fecal occult blood test (to test for blood in the feces) annually, or more often if any problems have been encountered.
- A flexible sigmoidoscopy every 5 years if normal, or
- A colonoscopy (if normal, every 10 years), or
- A barium enema every 5 to 10 years if normal and
- A digital rectal exam at the same time the sigmoidoscopy, colonoscopy or barium enema is performed (up to 10 percent of tumors can be detected by this low-tech test). Screenings should be initiated earlier than age 50 if there is a family history of colon cancer or polyps.
Nutrition and supplements for colon polyps:
- Eat very little, if any, red meat. Regular consumption of red meat results in an increased risk of developing colon cancer compared to eating no red meat at all.
- Eat generous amounts of vegetables. Green leafy vegetables, especially, have been linked to lower risk of colon cancer.
- Eat plenty of fiber from a variety of foods (from beans to whole grains to fruit). Although recent studies about which specific foods provide the most benefit have not been conclusive - especially when it comes to primary prevention of colon cancer - most physicians, researchers and nutritionists recommend a largely plant-based diet with lots of fiber.
- Limit alcohol. Studies suggest that the more alcohol you drink, the higher your risk of developing colon cancer.
- Make green tea your beverage of choice. Green tea consumption is linked with lower incidence of many kinds of cancer.
- Consider taking aspirin therapy. Research suggests that taking a daily low-dose aspirin over a period of years can cut colon cancer risk by as much as half.
- Take a multivitamin containing folic acid and vitamin D.
- Keep blood sugar and insulin levels low. Insulin resistance, especially when linked to excessive abdominal body fat, is associated with an increased risk of colon cancer.
- Eat small, balanced meals frequently and watch your intake of carbohydrates (sugars and starches), especially those with a high glycemic index.?
How can colon polyps be prevented?
Doctors do not know of any one sure way to prevent polyps. But you might be able to lower your risk of getting them if you:
- eat more fruits and vegetables and less fatty food
- do not smoke
- avoid alcohol
- exercise every day
- lose weight if you are overweight.
Eating more calcium and folate can also lower your risk of getting polyps. Some foods that are rich in calcium are milk, cheese, and broccoli. Some foods that are rich in folate are chickpeas, kidney beans, and spinach.