What Are Colon Polyps?
Also known as colorectal polyps, colon polyps are clumps of cells that form a swelling or an extra piece of tissue in the lining of the colon in the large intestines. They are believed to develop due to a mutation of the cells in the lining of the colon.
Initially, they are harmless, but with time, they could pose more life-threatening complications such as colon cancer. However, this is only likely if they are left untreated for a long period of time. They are usually removed through the endoscopic procedure and, occasionally, through surgery.
While anyone can develop colon polyps, some people have a higher risk, including those above 50 years old and those who have a history of the condition in their families (x). They also occur in children (up to 6 percent of them) and are more common in those that experience intestinal bleeding (x).
The condition does not usually display any significant symptoms in the initial stages. It is therefore important to get screened frequently so that, if found, the polyps can be removed before they progress to cancer.
Types of Colon Polyps
Two common types of colon polyps are the hyperplastic and adenomatous polyps (x).
Hyperplastic Colon Polyps
These are also known as inflammatory polyps and generally get less attention than the adenomatous type. This is because they are quite harmless. They are not likely to become cancerous, though they should be removed either way.
Adenomatous Colon Polyps
These are not cancerous initially, but are likely to be if not removed in the right time. The potential to develop cancer cells increases significantly with their size and number. Polyps below 5mm are less likely to become cancerous, and the tendency increases per centimeter (x). The cell alignment as seen under a microscope also determines the likelihood of the polyps becoming cancerous; cells organized in tubular structures are less likely to develop cancer cells compared to those that appear in finger-like projections. Doctors usually schedule a removal surgery for adenomatous polyps immediately after diagnosis.
These are found to have cancer cells when diagnosed. Treatment for colon polyps is formulated depending on their severity and personal factors such as the patient’s general health.
Symptoms of Colon Polyps
Colon polyps do not usually display any signs and are discovered during screening for cancer or routine colonoscopy. As they progress, however, patients experience some symptoms including:
While bleeding from the rectum is one of the most common symptoms of colon polyps, it can also signify other conditions such as tears in the anus or hemorrhoids.
Blood in Stool
If the polyps are bleeding then the patient is likely to find some blood in their stool. This is especially the case with large colon polyps.
Change in Color of Stool
In the cases of heavy bleeding (usually when the polyps are located in the proximal colon) the stool may appear black. The change, however, may also be caused by other factors such as drugs and medicine, foods and supplements.
Change in Bowel Movements
Constipation may occur when large polyps prevent waste from moving down the colon. This interference in peristalsis may cause the patient some significant amount of pain. Diarrhea is also likely as the polyps may secrete some fluids into the intestine. When the symptoms persist for longer than a week, it is time to see the doctor. They may, however, be caused by other non-related factors and conditions.
Pain in the Abdomen
This is caused when large polyps obstruct the flow of food waste in the colon, which is located in the abdomen.
Bleeding in the colon and rectum may lower the red blood cell count in the body, causing the patient to experience symptoms of anemia such as muscle weakness, lightheadedness, pale skin, rapid heartbeats and unexplained fatigue.
Although rare, a substantially large polyp may pull the portion of the colon to which it is attached into the distal colon, causing severe obstruction.
As the symptoms of colon polyps are rarely felt, it is advised that you get screened regularly. This will help spot and remove any polyps that may be forming before they become symptomatic or even cancerous. If you suspect that you may have the polyps, seek prompt medical attention so that the doctor can establish whether you do, and how serious the situation is.
Causes of Colon Polyps
Colon polyps are either congenital or develop in one’s lifetime. While the exact cause is still unknown, scientists believe that colon polyps can be linked to the mutation of cells in the colon lining.
Usually, the body produces new cells to replace the old ones and those that are worn out. This process is well-regulated so that the rate of cell growth matches that of cell degeneration. In the case of colon polyps, they multiply at an abnormal rate, causing the development of extra tissue on the lining which becomes the polyp. In the colon, the growth is referred to as colon polyps while in the rectum it is called colorectal polyps.
Colon polyps are also linked to certain lifestyles. It has been observed to occur more often in people who:
- Smoke cigarettes frequently and heavily
- Have obesity
- Have high-fat diets
- Do not eat enough fiber
- Overeat red meat
Other people develop colon polyps when they have close family members who have it too. Genetically inherited conditions that may lead to colorectal polyps include:
- Gardner syndrome
- Familial adenomatous polyposis (FAP)
- Peutz-Jeghers syndrome
- Type 2 diabetes
The Risk Factors
- Age — people above 50 years are more likely to develop colon polyps than their younger counterparts. It is estimated that at about 30 percent of citizens above 50 years in the States have colon polyps (x).
- Genetic factor — if one has a family history of colon polyps where close family members have the condition, then it is very likely that they will get it too. In some cases, however, it is not hereditary.
- Poor exercise routines and obesity
- Race — people with African-American descent have an increased likelihood of getting colon polyps
- Heavy cigarette smoking
- Alcohol consumption
- Type 2 diabetes that is poorly controlled
- Inflammatory bowel diseases including Crohn’s disease
Needless to say, if you belong to any of these groups, it would be wise to get regular screening for colon polyps.
Colon Polyps Remedies and Supplements
Studies have proved that vitamin D reduces the chance of occurrence of colon polyps and colon cancer (x). Generally, vitamin D boosts the immune system and helps the body fight cancerous cells.
In the past years, doctors prescribed vitamin D and calcium supplements to patients who showed a likelihood of developing polyps. Ironically, research found that the combination or calcium on its own increased it and patients who took both supplements had started developing serrated polyps after a while (x). On its own, however, vitamin D has been found to counter the growth.
Owing to these results, it is advisable to consult with a doctor or health professional before taking the supplements, especially if you are suffering from other conditions or are pregnant.
Fish oil is mainly connected to helping prevent and fight colon cancer, which develops if colon polyps are not removed or treated. It contains polyunsaturated omega-3 fatty acids which, when taken consistently, help to prevent the formation of polyps in the colon. As a result, it is being considered as adjuvant therapy for both colorectal cancer and polyps (x).
Turmeric has been in use for countless years in both ancient and modern civilizations as a spice and medicine. Curcumin, the active component of the herb, has been found to contain cancer-fighting properties that discourage not only the growth of cancer cells, but also that of polyps. Studies conducted on patients with adenomatous colon polyps revealed that they reduced by 39 percent in those who took 0.2 percent of the chemical in their diet and by 40 percent in those who took 0.5 percent of it (x).
Garlic has been present in traditional medicine for years, used for promoting cardiovascular health. Photo-chemicals contained in it such as allicin (that gives it the distinct smell and taste) and organo-sulfuric compounds offer some oxidative properties, which are very helpful in preventing colorectal polyps and cancer. You can take garlic supplements or eat it raw. It is, however, advisable to consult with your doctor before taking it especially if you have other conditions related to the cardiovascular system. Garlic extract powder has blood-thinning properties that may be dangerous for anyone who is taking medication to help their blood clot.
As seen earlier, the personal lifestyle of an individual plays a crucial role when it comes to developing colon polyps. For instance, people who smoke have better chances of getting polyps than those who do not. Here are some lifestyle changes you should consider making to prevent and relief colon polyps:
- Reduce your consumption of alcohol and refined foods with too much sugar and extra additives.
- Reduce your smoking or better still, cut it off.
- Exercise regularly. Obesity is a risk factor for colon polyps. Exercise also has anti-inflammatory benefits that have been found to reduce the risk of getting colon cancer by up to 50 percent (x).
- Increase your fiber intake. For instance, you can replace processed grains with whole grain foods such as brown rice and rolled oats.
- Reduce your intake of red meat. You can switch to plant-based foods instead. Some vegetables even have anti-cancer properties such as broccoli.
- Incorporate anti-carcinogenic foods into your diet — these help to reduce the risk of polyps growing in the colon. If you have colon polyps already, these foods help prevent them from becoming cancerous. Such foods include ginger, oregano, green tea, turmeric and cocoa powder.
The Bottom Line
Colon polyps are extra tissues that grow on the lining of the colon due to the excessive growth of cells. Depending on the type, they can be dangerous, and if left unchecked, they can develop cancer cells and lead to colon or colorectal cancer. Colon polyps do not usually have any noticeable symptoms, but eventually they start to manifest through abdominal pain, blood in the stool, a change in the color of stool and rectal bleeding.
There are home remedies that one can use to prevent and relieve colon polyps including garlic, fish oil and vitamin D supplements. If you suspect that you or even someone you know has colon polyps, seek medical attention as soon as you can so the doctor can diagnose and determine the suitable method of treating or removing them. Additionally, it would be wise to get screened regularly as the polyps are not symptomatic and it may be hard to tell whether they are present or not. The doctor may also offer advice on how to prevent colon polyps.