A colon polyp is a small growth on the inner lining of the large intestine, some of which can progress into cancer. Polyps may be scattered throughout the colon and vary in size from a few millimeters to several centimeters. Polyps may have a flat or raised appearance. When raised they can resemble small bumps (called sessile), or even grow on short stalks (called pedunculated), resembling a mushroom or small cauliflower.
Because most polyps do NOT cause any symptoms, colorectal cancer screening for polyps is crucial for colorectal cancer prevention. There are many tests currently available to help diagnose colon polyps. The “gold standard” test that is currently available is colonoscopy, as it is the only test that is able to evaluate the entire colon lining for polyps, as well as take tissue samples and remove any polyps during the same procedure. While there are stool tests available that check for hidden blood or abnormal DNA which are currently available to help detect cancers of the colon, it is important to realize they screen for cancer, not polyps.
Both men and women at average risk for colorectal cancer should begin screening for colon polyps at age 50. Recent evidence and guidelines from the American College of Gastroenterology, recommend beginning at age 45 for African Americans as this ethnic group has demonstrated a higher risk for precancerous polyps as well as colon cancer. If you have a family history of colorectal polyps or cancer, or certain conditions such as inflammatory bowel disease, you may require screening at an even earlier age or more frequent interval. There are rare hereditary colon cancer syndromes which run in families, where colonoscopy is recommended at a much younger age and repeated frequently.