How Do Polyps Play Into Colon Cancer?


Colon polyps are noncancerous growths in the lining of the colon or rectum. Although polyps are not cancerous in and of themselves, they can become cancerous later on. Screening for colon polyps can help prevent the development of colon cancer, by allowing their removal before they turn into cancer.

Colon Polyps Can Become Cancerous

On their own, polyps are not cancerous. However, if they mutate and begin to grow out of control, they can become cancerous. When someone says they had “benign” polyps, they are right in that the polyps are not “malignant” (meaning cancer). Most of the time they are PRE-cancerous polyps, even when they are benign. That implies the need for more frequent surveillance to look for more polyps in the future, as well as screening their family members earlier, mostly at 40 years of age, instead of 50.

There are two types of polyps: raised and flat. Flat polyps are both more difficult to detect and more likely to turn into cancer.

Polyps Do Not Usually Cause Symptoms

Colon polyps do not usually cause any symptoms, and the same is true of early-stage colon cancer. The fact that polyps do not cause symptoms in most cases is one reason why screening is so important. The “Don’t fix it if it’s not broke” doesn’t work in the colon, because the cancer may be advanced by the time it causes symptoms. In some cases, people with colon polyps do develop symptoms. All of the symptoms can also indicate other colon problems, including colon cancer, so it is important to see a doctor if you notice:

  • Rectal bleeding
  • Sudden changes in bowel habits, like frequent constipation or diarrhea
  • More than a week of constipation or diarrhea

Your doctor can determine if these symptoms are from colon cancer or other causes such as hemorrhoids or inflammation in the colon,etc.


One of the major goals of routine colonoscopy is to screen for colon polyps. The procedure is used as a screening tool for all people over 50, as well as some other at-risk groups. Because colon polyps have the potential to become cancerous later on, their removal can prevent the development of cancer.

During a colonoscopy, the doctor views the inside of the colon, looking for growths areas of inflammation and colon polyps. If the colonoscopy reveals colon polyps, polypectomy can actually be performed during the colonoscopy.

What to Expect During a Colonoscopy

Colonoscopy is quick to perform, has very little downtime, and is not painful. If you hear someone say their colonoscopy was painful, it must have been in the days before their sedation. Currently anesthesia is provided by a trained professional and you are completely comfortable. Most people wake up after the procedure asking when we are going to start. It is important to have a trained person administer your anesthesia, so they can monitor you carefully during the procedure.

The night before the procedure, you refrain from eating and drink a solution that makes you go to the bathroom frequently until the bowel is completely empty. Most people have concerns about the prep but recent developments have reduced the quantity and improved the quality of the prep. Your doctor can determine the prep that is best suited for you.

During the procedure, you will be placed under sedation, which prevents you from feeling or remembering anything. Once you are sedated, the doctor inserts a thin tube with a camera on the end, known as a colonoscope, into the colon. The colonoscope produces a video of the inside of the colon. If colon polyps are found, polypectomy is performed. If larger abnormalities are detected, the doctor can take a biopsy.

After the colonoscopy, you can return to almost all normal eating and activities immediately. The only exception is related to the use of sedation, which can impair judgment and reaction times. People who have sedation must wait 24 hours to drive, operate heavy machinery, or sign contracts.