What Are Intestinal Polyps?

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  • Written By: Gregory Hanson
  • Edited By: Susan Barwick
  • Last Modified Date: 17 April 2020
  • Copyright Protected:
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Intestinal polyps are abnormal growths of cells attached to the wall of the intestine — typically the large intestine, and most often, the colon and rectum. These polyps can be caused by a variety of different conditions. They do not usually produce symptoms that can be detected without a medical examination. Polyps are frequently benign when first discovered but may become cancerous over time. This risk means that even non-cancerous polyps are typically removed when discovered.

Polyps are relatively common, especially in people over 50, but regular screening maximizes the chances of identifying intestinal polyps before they become malignant. Most polyps begin as benign growths, but many varieties have the potential to become cancerous if allowed to remain in place and continue to grow.

Physically, intestinal polyps are comprised of masses of cells that grow in an abnormal fashion from the lining of the intestine. They may be firmly attached to the intestinal wall or may form on a stalk of cells that stretches out away from the wall of the intestine. Polyps vary in size, and even benign polyps tend to increase in size over time. Those that are larger or that are attached to the wall of the intestine are more apt to become cancerous.

Many different conditions can cause intestinal polyps to form. Some are simply the result of miscommunication between cells, as some cells in the intestines may receive a signal to begin dividing even when no new cells are needed. This can result in the formation of polyps. Inflammatory bowel disease and Crohn’s disease can both lead to the formation of polyps. Certain genetic conditions can greatly increase the number of intestinal polyps that are likely to form and reduce the age at which they first appear.

Most patients who have intestinal polyps are not aware of them. Symptoms of intestinal polyps, such as rectal bleeding or intestinal discomfort may occur. Especially large polyps may cause stools to be unusually narrow or may lead to either constipation or diarrhea. Most polyps are asymptomatic, however, and can be spotted only by a medical examination performed by a doctor.

The most common test for intestinal polyps is the colonoscopy, in which a surgical probe is used to scout the colon for polyps and other potential problems. This procedure is recommended for all patients over the age of 50 and patients with medical histories that pre-dispose them to colorectal cancer. Most intestinal polyps can and should be removed during the course of a colonoscopy.


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