What are colon polyps?

Polyps are abnormal growths from the lining of the colon that vary in size from a tiny dot to several inches. The majority of polyps are benign, but it can be difficult to discern whether a polyp is benign or cancerous by its outer appearance alone. Therefore, polyps are removed and analyzed microscopically.

Polyps are benign growths (noncancerous tumors or neoplasms) involving the lining of the bowel. They can occur in several locations in the gastrointestinal tract but are most common in the colon. They vary in size from less than a quarter of an inch to several inches in diameter. They look like small bumps growing from the lining of the bowel and protruding into the lumen (bowel cavity). They sometimes grow on a "stalk" and look like mushrooms. Some polyps can also be flat. Many patients have several polyps scattered in different parts of the colon. Some polyps can contain small areas of cancer, although the vast majority of polyps do not.

A colon polyp is a small growth on the lining of the intestine.

Sometimes there is only one polyp, but there can be several present at the same time. There also are rare conditions in which the colon (large intestine) contains a very large number of polyps. Polyps may be either benign (noncancerous) or malignant (cancerous).

Removal of colon polyps is recommended for two reasons. First, in order to determine whether a colon polyp is benign or malignant, it is usually necessary for a pathologist to examine the tissue under a microscope. Second, most polyps, even though benign, have the potential to grow larger and become malignant if left in place. Removal of these polyps prevents them from becoming cancerous.

Angela Spires
Administration Specialist

Colon polyps are small overgrowths of tissue that form inside the large intestine (also known as the colon). They are very common, occurring in one third to one half of adults. Colon polyps do not usually cause any symptoms, but occasionally they can cause some bleeding. They have a very small chance (<1 percent) of becoming cancer, so they are typically removed if seen during a colonoscopy procedure.

Colon polyps, or tumors, form when cells in the colon and rectum have grown out of control and lump together. Many colon polyps are benign and cause no trouble, but some polyps are malignant and cause colorectal cancer, also called colon cancer or bowel cancer.

A colon polyp generally refers to a benign lesion in the colon. A polyp is a non-specific term. It just means a growth or a bump or a tumor or a mass. These all roughly mean the same thing. When they're smaller they're called polyps. They generally refer to a benign lesion as opposed to a mass, but they all mean about the same. There's a few different types. There's benign types that are completely benign and never grow into cancer such as hyperplastic or inflammatory polyps. An adenomatous polyp on the other hand has precancerous or malignant potential. Occasionally, a polyp may have early cancerous changes. What's important to realize is about a third or so of adults age 50 and half of adults age 70 will have an adenomatous precancerous polyp.

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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.