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Bowel polyps are small growths on the inner lining of the bowel, or rectum, or lining of the colon, they can also be referred to as colon polyps.
Bowel polyps are relatively common and can affect 1 in 4 people. Men have a slightly higher chance than women of developing them, and they tend to affect people over the age of sixty however, they can still occur in younger people.
Although medical experts aren’t entirely sure what causes bowel polyps, it is widely thought that they can be a result of the body producing too many cells in the lining of the large bowel, colon, or rectum.
Bowel polyps can form two types of shapes – sessile and pedunculated. Sessile polyps are flat and pedunculated polyps are similar to a mushroom. The sessile shape makes a polyp trickier to find when a screening of the bowel takes place.
If any of your family members have bowel cancer, you might be worried about getting the condition. However, despite bowel cancer being quite common, in most cases it’s not passed down through the family history.
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There are five types of bowel polyps with some more common than others. Certain types of bowel polyps are more likely to be malignant however, removing bowel polyps when detected, reduces the risk of a person developing polypsm, or bowel cancer at a later stage.
Adenomatous polyps are the most common type of polyp. They develop on the mucous membrane lining of the large intestine. Most adenomatous polyps are unlikely to become malignant if detected early enough, as it can take several years for them to turn into bowel cancer.
Serrated polyps include hyperplastic polyps which are smaller growths and are thought to pose a much lower risk of becoming malignant. Other larger serrated polyps have a higher risk of being precancerous. They can be much more challenging to detect due to their shape, as they are sessile.
Complex polyps are generally more difficult to remove, and, in some cases, a medical team may decide that they can’t be removed safely due to the possibility that they may be bigger in size than 2 cm (0.8 inches), too flat, or in a place that is difficult to access safely.
Villous Adenoma is a type of polyp that has a high chance of becoming malignant. Although this form of polyp is not particularly common, they tend to be flatter and therefore more difficult to remove.
Inflammatory polyps are also referred to as psuedopolyps. Inflammatory polyps develop due to a chronic inflammation in the bowel. They are usually found in people with inflammatory bowel disease (IBD). Commonly, inflammatory polyps are benign and pose little, or no risk.
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It is often the case that bowel polyps present little, or no symptoms, in a person, and consequently, the person will be unaware of their presence. Most commonly, bowel polyps are discovered when looking for other health issues following changes in bowel movements, and other problems in that region of the body. However, in some cases, and particularly with larger polyps, a person may display some symptoms, such as abdominal pain, diarrhoea, or constipation, and a small amount of mucous in their stools.
The treatment for bowel polyps depends entirely on the type a person may have. There are various procedures to treat and remove bowel polyps, with some being more common than others. The most common way to remove bowel polyps is using a wire loop during a colonoscopy. This consists of the colonoscope having a wire attached to it with an electrical current running through it. The wire will either cauterise, or snare, the polyp. Both techniques are painless.
In instances where the polyps are perhaps larger, or the cells have changed, it might be necessary to remove part of the bowel in order to remove the polyps. This could also happen if there is a high number of polyps.
Following the removal of the bowel polyp, or polyps, a lab will test them to determine whether they could grow back, if they are cancerous, or if they have been completely removed.
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Living with bowel polyps on a day-to-day basis mostly presents little impact to an individual’s life. Nonetheless if, following investigation, it is discovered that a polyp had malignant potential, or hasn’t been completely removed, it may be necessary for medical experts to schedule more frequent colonoscopies to monitor the situation. Typically, this will occur at regular intervals, such as every 3 to 5 years.
Additionally, it is possible that smoking and being overweight can increase a person’s risk of developing bowel polyps. Following this, whilst it’s not a necessity for someone to change their lifestyle, or diet, if they have bowel polyps, eating a balanced diet can reduce the risks because it helps the bowels to move in the correct way.
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If it is discovered that someone has bowel polyps, or they have gone undetected, resulting in a cancer diagnosis, there is support available through specialist medical teams, who will be part of the diagnostic process.
Here is a list of relevant cancer support websites – simply click on the name and you will be taken to the relevant website:
Bowel Cancer UK
Macmillan Cancer Support UK
Other useful websites include:
Guts Charity UK
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Medical terms are often baffling and difficult to fully understand. To help, we have listed some frequently used terms below.
- Benign – means, not cancerous
- Bowel – the lower part of the digestive system
- Cauterise – the act of burning the flesh, or skin, to remove a growth, stop bleeding, or infection
- Chronic – refers to a human health condition that is persistent, or long-lasting
- Colonoscopy – a procedure that uses a flexible instrument to detect changes, or abnormalities, in the large intestine (colon) and rectum
- Constipation – a condition where there is difficulty regularly emptying the bowels
- Diagnosis – the process of identifying a disease, condition, or injury, from its symptoms
- Diarrhoea – a condition of having at least three loose, liquid, or watery bowel movements each day
- Inflammation – the process by which the body fights against things that can harm it, such as infections, injuries, and toxins
- Malignant – refers to the presence of cancerous cells that have the ability to spread to other locations in the body
- Mucus – a sticky and stringy substance produced by lining tissues in the body, acting as a protective and moisturising layer to prevent critical organs from drying out
- Rectum – the chamber that starts at the end of the large intestine and ends at the anus (bottom)
- Snare – surrounds a object with a wire noose to remove it
- Stools – the material expelled in a bowel movement, made up of undigested food, bacteria, mucus and the lining of the intestines