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Colorectal polyps

Alternative names

Intestinal polyps; Polyps - colorectal


A colorectal polyp is a growth that projects (usually on a stalk) from the lining of the colon or rectum.

Causes, incidence, and risk factors

Polyps of the colon and rectum are usually benign and produce no symptoms, but they may cause painless rectal bleeding . There may be single or multiple polyps and they become more common as people age. Over time, certain types of polyps, called adenomatous polyps, can develop into cancer.

Polyps greater than one centimeter have a greater cancer risk associated with them than polyps under one centimeter. Risk factors include advancing age, cigarette smoking, high fat or low fiber diet, and a family history of polyps.

Polyps may also be associated with some inheritable disorders, including:

  • Gardner's syndrome
  • Peutz-Jeghers syndrome
  • Juvenile polyposis
  • Familial adenomatous polyposis


There are usually no symptoms. However, the following symptoms may occur:

  • Rectal bleeding
  • Bloody stools
  • Fatigue associated with anemia
  • Abdominal pain (rare)

Signs and tests

A rectal examination may reveal a polyp that can be felt by the physician. However, the physical exam is usually normal

Tests that show polyps:
  • Sigmoidoscopy
  • Colonoscopy
  • Virtual colonoscopy
  • Barium enema
  • Stool guaiac
  • A complete blood count may show anemia .


Over time, colorectal polyps can develop into cancer and should be removed. In most cases, the polyps can be removed at the same time a colonoscopy is performed. For patients with polyps, follow-up colonoscopy should be performed within three years to see if the polyps have returned.

Rarely, for polyps with a high potential of becoming cancerous, a colectomy (removal of a part of the colon) may be recommended.

Expectations (prognosis)

The outlook for patients with colorectal polyps is excellent, assuming the polyps are removed. Polyps that are left behind can develop into cancer over time.


Polyps can cause bleeding, and over time, can develop into cancers.

Calling your health care provider

Call your health care provider if rectal bleeding occurs.


The following is recommended to reduce the risk of developing polyps:

  • Eat a diet low in fat and high in fruits, vegetables, and fiber
  • Avoid smoking and excessive alcohol intake
  • Maintain a normal body weight

People over 50 should have a colonoscopy screening, which makes earlier diagnosis and treatment possible. This can reduce the odds of developing colon cancer, or at least helps catch it in its early, most treatable stage.

Colonoscopy prevents colon cancer by removing polyps before they can become cancer.

Update Date: 11/9/2002

Andrew J. Muir, M.D., M.H.S., Division of Gastroenterology, Duke University Medical Center, Durham, NC. Review provided by VeriMed Healthcare Network.

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Last updated: Tue, 06 Jan 2009 00:20:03 GMT