A colonoscopy is a valuable tool in the fight against colon cancer. It can detect cancer, as well as growths on the lining of the colon, which are called polyps. Identifying and removing polyps early eliminates the chance that colon cancer will develop from those polyps. Therefore, by doing timely colonoscopies, most cancers in the colon can be prevented.
There are a few points to keep in mind as we discuss polyps:
If you’ve taken the important step of getting a colonoscopy and your doctor has found one or more polyps, there are a number of possible scenarios that could play out. So, what’s the next step?
Removing the Polyps
Your gastroenterologist will most likely remove any polyps found during your colonoscopy. The medical term for removing polyps is polypectomy. Next, your doctor will send the removed tissue to a pathologist, who will test the tissue samples for cancer. You should typically get the pathology results within a week to 10 days.
Identifying the Polyps
Pathology results will tell your doctor what kind of polyp was removed during the colonoscopy. There are different kinds of polyps. The most common are hyperplastic and adenomatous polyps. Hyperplastic polyps do not have the potential to become cancerous. However, some adenomatous polyps can turn into cancer if not removed. Patients with adenomatous polyps have an increased chance of developing more polyps.
Weighing the Risk of Colon Cancer
Most polyps found during a colonoscopy are benign. When colon polyps are identified as being pre-cancerous or dysplastic, your doctor will take these criteria into account to determine your risk for cancer:
In recent years, certain genetic syndromes have been recognized in which polyps and colon cancers occur at a younger age. These syndromes are called Familial Adenomatous Polyposis (FAP) and Hereditary Non Polyposis Colon Cancer (HNPCC). Patients and their first generation family members need to undergo colon cancer screening earlier and more often compared to the general population.
Your Next Step
If your family has high rates of cancer, genetic testing may be recommended. In some cases, you may require surgery to remove the area of the colon where the polyp was found.
Most likely, surgery will not be required. Based on your pathology results and family history, your gastroenterologist will recommend when you should have your next colonoscopy. This time range can vary from one to ten years.