Polyps and Their Treatment

Getting to Know About Polyps and Their Treatment

What is a Colon Polyp?
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.

How are Polyps Removed?
Most polyps found during colonoscopy can be completely removed during the procedure. Various removal techniques are available; most involve removing them with a wire loop biopsy forceps and/or burning the polyp base with an electric current. This is called polyp resection. Because the bowel’s lining isn’t sensitive to cutting or burning, polyp resection doesn’t cause discomfort. Resected polyps are then examined under a microscope by a pathologist to determine the tissue type and to detect any cancer. If a large or unusual looking polyp is removed or left for possible surgical management, the endoscopist may mark the site by injecting small amounts of sterile India ink or carbon black into the bowel wall. this is called endoscopic tattooing.

How often Do I need Colonoscopy if I have Polyps Removed?
Your doctor will decide when your next colonoscopy is necessary. The timing depends on several factors, including the number and size of polyps removed, the polyps’ tissue type and the quality of the colon cleansing for your previous procedure. The quality of cleansing affects your doctor’s ability to see the surface of the colon. If the polyps were small and the entire colon was well seen during your colonoscopy, doctors generally recommend a repeat colonoscopy in three to five years. If your repeat colonoscopy doesn’t show any indication of polyps, you might not need another procedure for an additional five years. However, if the polyps were large and flat, your doctor might recommend an interval of only months before a repeat colonoscopy to assure complete polyp removal. Your doctor will discuss those options with you.

(Excerpted from the ASGE's Understanding: Polyps and Their Treatment Pamphlet)