Polyps are small growths on the inside lining of the bowel and are very common in the UK population (approximately 15% of the people will have at
least 1). Most are small (less than 1cm), but they can grow larger.
Why are they important?
Most polyps are entirely benign and would never cause any significant issues. We do know, however, that a small proportion of a certain type of polyp
could turn into a bowel cancer, however this is only in a small number of polyps and often this process can take many years. That is why when polyps
are seen in the colon they are removed if it is safe to do so. This allows us to see what type of polyp it is, as well as removing the prospect that it could
be one of the small number of polyps which potentially could turn cancerous.
What symptoms do they cause?
Usually none. Polyps are most often found when people have an investigation of the large bowel for any reason. When they are larger they can
sometimes cause bleeding or excessive mucous to be seen with the stools. Occasionally polyps close to the back passage can prolapse down when
people pass a stool and be felt on the outside.
How are they removed and what happens after?
Polyps are usually straightforward to remove at the same time as colonoscopy. If they are larger, however, then this may need to be done by a specialist
who can perform an endoscopic procedure known as EMR (endoscopic mucosal resection). Polyps very close to the back passage sometimes need to
be removed with an operation as it can be technically hard to remove these endoscopically, but this is relatively unusual. After all colonic polyps are
removed, people are usually entered into a programme of surveillance, whereby they would be offered repeat colonoscopy after an interval of 1, 3 or 5
years depending on the size, number and type of the polyps removed. Such surveillance has been shown to reduce the risk of developing bowel cancer
in people who have had previous polyps.