Bowel polyps refer to a small clump of cells that form on the lining of the colon. It is for this reason that they are often referred to as colon polyps.

While these growths may, generally, be a harmless group of cells, they can also become cancerous if they’re left untreated for a long period of time, especially if the polyps in questions are large. Approximately 5% of bowel polyps become cancerous.

There are two primary types of bowel polyps, non-neoplastic and neoplastic growths. The former is not known to cause cancer in a majority of cases, while the latter includes adenomas and serrated polyps.

Because these growths don’t pose any symptoms in many cases, patients, especially those over the age of 50, need to be mindful about this condition. 

Causes of bowel polyps

Bowel or colon polys can be congenital in nature. This is usually the case when there are hereditary factors at play.

Among detected cases, the following factors can cause these growths to take place:

  • A high-fat diet
  • The excessive consumption of red meat
  • Smoking cigarettes
  • Obesity
  • Not enough fibre in an individual’s diet
  • Genetic factors

Apart from this, individuals may also develop these growths if they’ve inherited certain conditions. These include familial adenomatous polyposis (FAP), Gardner syndrome, and Peutz-Jeghers syndrome.

Those with these conditions may go on to develop cancer in other organs including the small intestine and colon.

Risk factors

Apart from causal factors, there are also risk factors that leave certain individuals more vulnerable to developing bowel polyps or cancer. These include:

  • Individuals over the age of 50
  • Certain intestinal conditions (Ulcerative Colitis and Crohn’s disease)
  • Genetic conditions/family history - individuals are more likely to develop polyps if family members have them
  • Frequent smoking and drinking
  • Type 2 diabetes

Treatment for bowel polyps

For most gastroenterologists, the primary method of treating patients with this condition is to remove the growths. This can be done in a number of ways. Some of the most common include:

A colonoscopy

By attaching a cutting tool or an electric wire loop at the end of a colonoscope, polyps can be removed in the process of conducting a colonoscopy.

For smaller growths, they may inject a liquid underneath the polyp to elevate it and isolate it from the surrounding area, making the removal process easier.


During these procedures, a small incision is made into the abdomen and pelvis and a laparoscope is inserted into the bowel. This is done to remove polyps that can’t be removed through a colonoscopy.

Proctocolectomy - removing the colon and the rectum

This procedure is reserved for people who have severe cases of bowel polyps or cancer. It’s also used for patients with rare genetic conditions such as Familial Adenomatous Polyposis (FAP), which can cause cancer in the colon and rectum. Polyp removal, in these instances, may prevent cancer from developing.

For those who already have polyps or colon cancer, certain medications like aspirin or coxibs may be prescribed to prevent new growths from forming.

Prevention of bowel polyps

Polys can be potentially be prevented through a few lifestyle changes.

Maintaining a healthy diet

Preventing bowel polyps may be possible through the incorporation of fruits, vegetables, and whole grains and the reduction of fatty content.

Limiting alcohol and tobacco is important as well.

Increasing calcium and Vitamin D

Certain studies have shown that an increase in calcium may be effective in preventing the recurrence of colon adenomas. Vitamin D is known to protect the body from colorectal cancer as well.

The importance of detecting and treating bowel polyps

Bowel polyps don’t pose a significant risk in the majority of cases. Yet, leaving them undetected can lead to serious consequences, including cancer.

Individuals over the age of 50 must be proactive about their digestive health and
schedule regular colonoscopies to ensure that they’re in the best of health.

For more information on how to prevent and treat bowel polyps, Dr Suhirdan Vivekanandarajah, interventional gastroenterologist and hepatologist, provides expert advice.

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