Polyps, frequently located in the colon and rectum, are unusual growths that have undergone mutations. It’s crucial to keep an eye on these growths, considering their potential to develop into cancer. In fact, during a colonoscopy, it’s generally advised to remove all polyps, regardless of whether they are benign or malignant. To mitigate the risk of these growths turning cancerous, it is recommended to undergo a colonoscopy every five to ten years, starting from the age of 50. This proactive medical procedure aims to identify and eliminate polyps.
A staggering 95 percent of colorectal cancer cases stem from malignant polyps, placing this type of cancer in fifth position behind skin, lung, prostate, and breast cancers. As such, the colonoscopy has earned its reputation as one of the most effective cancer prevention measures available.
Polyps, though small and flesh-like in appearance, can be lethal if left unnoticed. They proliferate in clusters along the colon lining. The cells in the colon lining go through a normal life cycle – they are born, multiply, mature, and eventually die. However, the emergence of polyps disrupts this natural process. Mutations in the DNA of these cells result in the growth of polyps along the lining. Once polyps are removed, they do not reappear. However, nearly one-third of individuals who have had polyps removed will experience the growth of new polyps elsewhere, necessitating regular colonoscopies.
What Increases the Risks of Polyps?
The main hazard associated with polyps is their propensity to stay hidden, consequently remaining untreated. Regularly scheduled colonoscopies can dramatically reduce this risk by promptly eliminating these unwanted growths.
Outlined below are the most common factors that increase the likelihood of polyp development and, potentially, colorectal cancer:
In simple terms, the risk of developing colon polyps significantly rises from the age of 50 onwards. Data strongly suggests that the risk intensifies substantially from this age, which is why the age of 50 is typically recommended for your initial colonoscopy.
Statistically, African Americans have a higher incidence and mortality rate from colon cancer than any other racial group in the United States. Recent studies indicate that African American women are at the highest risk.
Your Family History
Having immediate family members (mother, father, sibling, or child) who have had colon polyps can significantly elevate your chances of experiencing the same. If several close relatives have had polyps, your risk escalates considerably. However, it is worth noting that there are instances where heredity does not play a role.
You Have Had Inflammatory Intestinal Issues
Certain inflammatory bowel conditions like Crohn’s Disease and ulcerative colitis are known to greatly amplify the risk of polyps.
You Have Type 2 Diabetes
Having type 2 diabetes enhances the risk of developing polyps. However, uncontrolled diabetes poses an even greater risk.
You Drink Alcohol and Use Tobacco
The risk of developing polyps is notably higher in men who consume alcohol and use tobacco. The statistical evidence is not as robust among women.
Your Body Weight and Activity Level
Being overweight and leading a sedentary lifestyle can increase the likelihood of poor health outcomes, including a heightened risk of polyps and, consequently, the possibility of malignant polyps.
You Have Any of These Hereditary Disorders
Certain inherited disorders can escalate the risk of polyp development. These include Gardner’s Syndrome, Lynch Syndrome, Serrated Polyposis Syndrome, Peutz-Jeghers Syndrome, MYH-Associated Polyposis, and Familial Adenomatous Polyposis.
When Do Polyps Signal Colon Cancer?
The fundamental truth is that malignant polyps are often a precursor to colon cancer in the majority of instances. Typically, polyps are hyperplastic – benign but with a prospective risk of becoming cancerous. Other benign polyps carry a precancerous status and could potentially develop into cancer if not promptly removed. Certain types of precancerous polyps, such as hamartomatous and adenomatous polyps, may exhibit features like stems and cilia, suggesting a likelihood of an adenomatous polyp evolving into cancer. However, in most scenarios, there are minimal observable characteristics that can predict a benign polyp’s potential transformation into cancer. It’s not uncommon for several stages of abnormality to manifest before cancer is ultimately diagnosed post-removal and testing.
Over time, DNA mutations within the cells instigate these abnormalities. What may be benign today could morph into cancerous growth in a year or several years later. This is the primary reason why all polyps identified during a colonoscopy are excised. Dysplasia, a condition characterized by abnormal cell growth, can progress from a low-grade to high-grade stage over several years, leading to the polyp becoming cancerous.
What Can You Do About Colon Polyps?
The key to preventing colon polyps from transforming into colon cancer is early identification and access to high-quality treatments. For people in East Orange, NJ, and the surrounding communities, Salerno Medical Associates, a division of the Nirvana Healthcare Network, is ready to help. Our expertly trained primary care physicians have decades of experience working within the community, learning and identifying the warning signs and getting them the necessary treatment.
Our team has worked with patients across the community and our compassionate approach means you are in the best hands possible. Learn about our primary care services in East Orange, NJ, and schedule your next appointment today.