Why Check for Colon Polyps?

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Why Check for Colon Polyps?

Small knobs of tissue on the lining of the large bowel are known as polyps. Some polyps turn malignant, and research is not yet clear about why – although science has gained insight into possible causes.

Donald David, M.D., chief of the Division of Gastroenterology at City of Hope, says, “It appears that certain genes involved with preventing tumors – we call them tumor suppressor genes – may be knocked out and clear the way for polyps to become cancerous.”

David says all polyps should be removed so they can be examined in a lab for signs of cancer. Polyps can be removed through a simple excision during a colonoscopy, a screening procedure to check the entire colon for early signs of cancer, including polyps. National guidelines recommend that screening for colon cancer should begin at age 50 for most people. Along with a colonoscopy, screening may include a fecal occult blood test, which looks for signs of blood in stool, and a flexible sigmoidoscopy to check only the lower colon.

“Screening for colon cancer is the most powerful way to gain the upper hand on this disease,” says David.

It is important to keep in mind that a patient who has developed one polyp can develop others in the future. But having a polyp does not automatically mean you’re at higher risk of cancer for the rest of your life.

“It depends on the type of polyp,” David says. “Adenomatous polyps are associated with colon cancer. We screen patients having these more frequently depending on the number of polyps, as well as the patient’s family history of cancer.”

Risk factors associated with colon cancer include family history of the disease and a personal history of breast cancer or inflammatory bowel disease.

Men with diabetes may want to talk to their physicians about colon cancer screening recommendations. A study published in the November 2010 issue of Gastroenterology found that men with diabetes are more likely to develop colon cancer. The study’s findings didn’t apply to women.

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