This year alone, more than 52,000 women and men in the United States will die from colorectal cancer, according to projections from the American Cancer Society. What’s even worse is that most deaths from colon cancer and rectal cancer are preventable.
Colorectal cancer is a slow-growing cancer. When it’s caught and treated early enough, the 5-year survival rate is 90%.
Our colorectal experts at Colon and Rectal Surgeons of Greater Hartford believe that even one death per year from colon cancer is too many. That’s why we provide convenient colonoscopy clinics during the week and on Saturdays at our Bloomfield, South Windsor, and Plainville, Connecticut, offices.
We encourage colonoscopies because they’re more than just an early detection method; they’re a treatment method, too. During your colonoscopy, if we find any precancerous or abnormal tissue, we remove it.
One of the most common abnormal tissues we remove during a colonoscopy are colon polyps. Fecal tests can’t tell if you have polyps, and they can’t remove them, either. Here’s why getting rid of polyps is a key component of colon health.
Colon cancer starts with polyps
Polyps in the lining of your colon are simply clumps of cells. Some polyps are flat (i.e., sessile). Others grow long and extended over time, and can look something like a skin tag and even have a stalk (i.e., a pedunculated polyp).
Most of the time, polyps are benign. That means they’re not cancerous. So, why remove them?
Even though polyps themselves tend to be non-cancerous, if you develop colon cancer, the cancer first develops in the polyps.
Polyp types and cancer risks
In addition to coming in two different shapes, polyps have different types, each of which has a different risk of becoming cancerous. 25% of women and men over age 50 have at least one type of colon polyp.
About 15% of the polyps doctors find during colonoscopy are called villous or tubulovillous adenomas. They have a high risk of becoming cancerous. Because they’re sessile, they may be difficult to remove. We can remove smaller ones during the colonoscopy itself. Larger villous adenomas may require surgery in order to completely remove them.
About 70% of all polyps are adenomatous (or tubular) polyps. Whenever we find an adenomatous polyp, we remove it and send it to the lab to be tested for cancerous changes. A very small percentage of adenomatous polyps are cancerous. However, almost all malignant colon cancers begin with this so-called benign tumor.
The risk for serrated polyps, which tend to be flat, turning cancerous depends on where they’re located. The most dangerous type of serrated polyps are large and found in the upper colon. They tend to be hard to detect and are almost always cancerous. Small, serrated polyps are usually found in the lower colon and are rarely malignant.
Small, serrated polyps are also referred to as hyperplastic polyps. Even though they have a low risk for malignancy, we always remove and test them.
Inflammatory polyps are known as “pseudopolyps” because they’re not really polyps in the traditional sense. Instead, they develop as a result of inflammation in the colon. Usually those with inflammatory bowel disease (IBD) develop pseudopolyps. They only rarely become cancerous.
Complex polyps are either larger than two centimeters, located in a hard-to-reach area, or are too sessile for easy removal. Your colorectal expert may recommend surgery to remove them.
In addition to increasing your risk for colon cancer, polyps can create symptoms on their own, including rectal bleeding and pain. Profuse bleeding can even result in anemia. In other words, even if they’re not cancerous, polyps aren’t good for your health and well-being.
Colon cancer takes time
There are only three “good” things about colon cancer: 1) it’s slow-growing, 2) regular screening reduces your risk of developing it, and 3) early detection frequently leads to a cure. That’s why colonoscopy is such an important diagnostic and treatment tool. By finding and removing polyps before they have a chance to turn cancerous, you reduce your risk for colon cancer.
To book your colonoscopy and polyp removal, contact the experts at Colon and Rectal Surgeons of Greater Hartford today. Call our friendly, discreet team at 860-242-8591. Or, schedule an appointment online.