What happens if a polyp is found during a colonoscopy?

More than 90 percent of polyps found during a colonoscopy are removed by the gastroenterologist at that time of initial detection. The reason colonoscopies are done is to detect these polyps. Around 25 to 50 percent of all adults will have some kind of polyp.

Some polyps, though, are a little bit more difficult to remove. They're either more risky for anatomic reasons or they're larger or maybe the gastroenterologist was not able to take it out completely. This may be related to size. It may be related to location in the colon, the anatomy of the colon in that area, and some other factors. These so-called difficult polyps are referred to a specialist, an interventional endoscopist, for minimally invasive removal.

The vast majority of colon polyps, even the big ones, don't need surgery. If a colon polyp is discovered, the gastroenterologist is unable to take it out and surgery is being discussed, in modern endoscopy it will probably be taken care of without surgery.

If a polyp is discovered during a colonoscopy, the physician will most likely take a tissue sample or entirely remove the polyp during the same examination. Doctors generally recommend removing all polyps from the large intestine and rectum because of the potential of some polyps to become cancers. Polyps are removed during a colonoscopy procedure using a cutting instrument or an electrified wire loop called a snare. If a polyp cannot be removed during colonoscopy due to size or anatomical location, an ink tattoo may be placed at the site and surgery may be required for the polyp’s removal. During a colonoscopy, the patient is sedated and comfortable. Most patients are not even aware that the procedure has taken place afterward.

If a polyp is found to be a cancer, treatment depends on whether the cancer is likely to have spread. The risk of spread is determined by microscopic examination of the polyp by a pathologist. If the risk is low, no further treatment is necessary. If the risk is high, particularly if the cancer has invaded beyond the superficial layers of the polyp, the affected segment of the large intestine may need to be removed surgically. Removal of colorectal polyps does prevent a cancer from developing at that one location, but the patient may be at risk to develop polyps at other locations. Close follow-up is indicated for these patients. When a person has a polyp removed, the entire large intestine and rectum are examined by colonoscopy at regular intervals as determined by the number and type of polyps identified.

Treatment for colorectal cancer is most effective when the cancer is found early. Colorectal cancer treatment may include surgery, radiation, chemotherapy or any combination of these. Surgery is the first line of defense against colorectal cancer. Some patients may have radiation and/or chemotherapy prior to surgery. Others might have one or both afterwards, and some will not have either.

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Important: This content reflects information from various individuals and organizations and may offer alternative or opposing points of view. It should not be used for medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. As always, you should consult with your healthcare provider about your specific health needs.