Polyps of the colon and rectum are abnormal growths which arise from the lining of the bowel. Whilst some are flat others have a stalk. They are one of the most common conditions affecting the bowel, occurring in around one in six of the adult population. The majority are simple (benign) but the relationship of polyps to bowel cancer is well established.
Most polyps are "silent" and produce no symptoms. They are usually identified during colonoscopy or occasionally nowadays after bowel x-ray (barium enema). Some polyps will produce symptoms such as rectal bleeding, mucous discharge and change in bowel habit.
There is no absolute method of predicting which polyps will turn into cancer so removal is advised. This can be done either by passing a wire loop (snare) around the polyp down through the colonoscope and amputating with an electrical current. Smaller polyps can be destroyed by picking up and touching with a coagulating electrical current ("hot biopsy").
Most polyps can be removed at a day-case colonoscopy in one sitting. Larger polyps may require more than one treatment for complete removal. If the polyp cannot be safely removed because of its size or location then surgery is required.
If a polyp is completely removed then it is unlikely to recur. However, new polyps will develop in at least 30% of patients with a past history of bowel polyps so follow-up check colonoscopy is advised. The Institute has a dedicated recall service for polyp patients using the British Society of Gastroenterology polyp surveillance guidelines.