Polyps, small clusters of cells or “bumps” that form on the lining of your intestines, are typically harmless. However, if left untreated, polyps can eventually develop into cancer. The problem with polyps is that they often do not cause symptoms, so although they are common, many people are left unaware that they are at risk.
You are especially prone to polyps if you have an inflammatory bowel disease such as ulcerative colitis or Crohn’s disease. Other factors that can increase your risk of polyps include age, smoking, history of polyps, or colon cancer in your family.
Detected early, most polyps can be easily removed during the screening procedure, requiring no additional visits. Larger polyps may require minimally invasive surgery and repeat visits.
Additionally, larger polyps are associated with an increased risk of cancer. It is essential to schedule regular visits with a gastroenterologist to screen for polyps. The most common screening tool is a colonoscopy. This is a simple, outpatient procedure that typically lasts about 30 minutes. A scope is used to look at the lining of the intestines to determine the presence of polyps.
Many people wait until a problem arises to schedule a visit with their gastroenterologist. By the time symptoms develop, the risk of cancer is much higher. It is best to take a prophylactic approach and get regular screenings to address potential issues early on, when you have the best chance for an easy fix. Current colonoscopy screening recommendations for a health individual without any prior risk factors is at age 50.