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Colon polyps: What to ask your doctor

March 2013

By Colleen Martin and Adelina Espat

Did you recently find out that you have colon polyps? Don’t worry. Most polyps aren’t cancer.

polyp-colon-coupleBut some types of colon polyps do increase your risk of developing colon cancer. So, it’s important to be informed.

Here’s what you need to know.

Get a colonoscopy

What exactly is a colon polyp? It’s a small growth on the inside of your colon (also known as your large intestine) that can turn into cancer.

Polyps come in different shapes and sizes, and are most common in adults age 50 and older. Some are:

  • Raised on stems like mushrooms
  • Found on the surface of the colon, like a mushroom without a stalk
  • Found flat on the surface of the colon, like a pancake

During a colonoscopy, your doctor looks for and removes abnormal polyps that can become cancerous. Finding and removing polyps before they become cancer is the most effective way to prevent colon cancer.

Most people should get a colonoscopy every 10 years starting at age 50.

READ ALSO: Colonoscopy vs. Virtual Colonoscopy

Ask the right questions

colon, cancer, doctorAfter your colonoscopy, your doctor will send the removed polyps to a pathologist. This way, your polyps can be tested to see if they’re cancerous or pre-cancerous.

The pathologist determines if the polyp is a:

  • Hyperplastic polyp, which is not cancer
  • Serrated adenoma, which is not cancer but can become cancer if it’s not removed
  • Adenomatous polyp, which is not cancer but can become cancer if it’s not removed
  • Malignant polyp, which is cancer

Be sure to get copies of your pathology and colonoscopy reports. Take time to discuss these reports with your doctor and ask:

  • what type of polyps were found,
  • how many polyps were removed and
  • the size of the polyps. 

The answers to these questions help your doctor determine whether you’re more likely to develop colon cancer in the future. They also help your doctor decide if you need to get colonoscopies more often to watch for new polyps.

After your exam, be sure to follow the doctor’s orders.  Keep a record of your reports to take to follow-up exams. And, stay on schedule with regular colonoscopies. It just might save your life.

MAKE AN APPOINTMENT: Schedule an appointment for a colonoscopy, or other colon cancer exam, at MD Anderson’s Cancer Prevention Center. Call 713-563-5360 or request an appointment online.

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© 2014 The University of Texas MD Anderson Cancer Center