Colon polyps are small growths that appear in the lining of the large intestine and protrude out into the intestinal canal.

Most colorectal cancers start as polyps, however, not all polyps turn into cancer.

A doctor will often remove polyps once they are detected, usually during a colonoscopy. They will usually send these polyps off for a biopsy to test them for cancer.

This article will discuss what happens once a doctor removes a polyp that contains cancer. It also looks at the different types of polyps.

a scientist wearing a white coat and blue gloves is working in a labShare on Pinterest
FatCamera/Getty Images

If a biopsy detects colon cancer, a doctor will determine the best course of treatment and explain next steps to the person.

There are a number of different treatment options. These include:

Surgery

Surgery is the most common treatment for early stage colon cancer. The surgery type may vary depending on a number of factors, including the stage of the cancer, its location, and the goal of the surgery.

If the cancer has not spread then the doctor may suggest removing the cancerous polyps, usually through either a colonoscopy or laparoscopy.

However, often the cancer has spread to the muscles surrounding the colon. In this instance, the doctor may opt for a colectomy.

A colectomy is the name for the surgery that removes all or part of the colon. There are two types of colectomy methods. In an open colectomy, the surgeon operates through a larger incision in the abdomen. In a laparoscopic colectomy, where the surgeon carries out the procedure through small incisions using a laparoscope.

The laparoscopic colectomy is the most common approach.

If a surgeon only removes a part of the colon, this procedure is called a hemicolectomy, partial colectomy, or segmental resection. The surgeon will take out the cancerous part of the colon along with a small segment of normal colon on either side.

During this procedure the surgeon often removes around one quarter to one third of the colon.

If the surgeon removes all of the colon, this is known as a total colectomy. This approach is rare. It is often only required if there is another problem in the part of the colon where no cancer is located.

Issues that may lead to a total colectomy include familial adenomatous polyposis with the presence of hundreds of polyps and inflammatory bowel disease.

During the surgery the surgeon will often remove nearby lymph nodes in order to reduce the risk of the cancer spreading.

All colon surgery requires the colon to be clean and empty. Therefore, before surgery the person is required to eat a special diet. They are also sometimes required to use laxative drinks or enemas to remove all of the stool from the colon.

Chemotherapy

Chemotherapy is a procedure that uses drugs to kill dividing cancer cells and stop them from growing.

A doctor will often recommend chemotherapy if the colon cancer has spread.

During chemotherapy the cancer care team administers medication that is designed to target any rapidly dividing cells. However, the medication also targets healthy cells.

The healthy cells can often recover from chemotherapy damage, whereas cancer cells cannot.

The chemotherapy medicine travels through the entire body and it can have adverse side effects, some of which can be severe. Therefore, chemotherapy treatment mostly takes place in cycles, allowing the body adequate time to recover between doses.

Common side effects of chemotherapy include:

  • nausea and vomiting
  • fatigue
  • decreased appetite
  • hair loss
  • dry mouth
  • changes in taste
  • constipation

If a doctor recommends chemotherapy as a treatment, the benefits are often very likely to outweigh any of the adverse side effects.

Radiation therapy

Radiation therapy is a common treatment method for cancer. It involves using radiation to target a specific area of the body.

This can involve using a beam of radiation or putting a radioactive substance inside the body.

Both methods are designed to break up the DNA of cancer cells. This disrupts their growth and stops them from dividing.

However, radiation therapy does not kill cancer cells instantly. It usually takes a number of days or weeks of treatment before the cancer cells begin to die. The targeted cells then continue to die for a period of weeks or months after the radiation therapy has ended.

A doctor may decide to use radiation therapy to reduce the size of a tumor before surgery takes place.

Sometimes a doctor will use radiation therapy to kill any remaining cancer cells after surgery.

It is also sometimes a part of palliative care to treat pain and other problems the tumor is causing.

The 5-year survival rate outlines what percentage of people survive at least 5 years after cancer is detected.

The 5-year survival rate for people with colon cancer is 80%. However, this rate varies depending on the stage that the cancer is in.

If the cancer has not spread and is localized to the colon, then the 5-year survival rate is 91%.

However, if the cancer has spread to the nearby tissues or lymph nodes, the 5-year survival rate is 72%.

The survival rate drops to 14% if the cancer spreads to distant parts of the body.

Colon polyps are protrusions in the lining of the colon. They are often sporadic, but can also be a symptom of other issues.

Polyps are common in older people. They occur in around 30% of adults over 50 years old in the United States.

Some polyps can turn into cancer over time. These polyps are known as precancerous.

There are a number of different types of polyps. The type of polyp affects the chance that the polyp might turn into cancer.

The three main types of polyps are:

Adenomatous polyps

Adenomatous polyps can turn into cancer and are therefore considered to be a precancerous condition. However, they can remain benign.

There are three different growth patterns of adenomatous polyps. These are: tubular, villous, and tubulovillous.

Tubular adenomatous polyps are small and develop a tubular shape, while villous adenomas feature finger-like or leaf-like projections. Tubulovillous adenomatous polyps develop a mixture of both villous and tubular growth patterns.

One study outlines the chances of each growth pattern developing cancer as follows:

  • tubular adenomas: less than 5% chance
  • villous adenomas: 35% to 40% chance
  • tubulovillous adenomas: 20% to 25% chance

Hyperplastic polyps

Hyperplastic polyps are the most common polyp type. They are also sometimes known as inflammatory polyps.

Hyperplastic polyps are generally not considered to be precancerous, and very rarely develop into cancer.

If a person has particularly large hyperplastic polyps, then a doctor may decide to carry out a colorectal cancer screening to check for other cancerous polyps.

Sessile serrated polyps (SSP)

Sessile serrated polyps are similar to adenomatous polyps in that they can also progress into cancer.

In fact, SSPs have a high risk of cancer. They are often hard to detect as they mostly sit behind a mask of mucus in the colon.

Whilst other precancerous polyps usually take a long time to develop into cancer, SSPs can progress more rapidly into cancer.

It is also worth noting that the size of the polyp can increase its risk of developing cancer.

A 2014 review states that adenomatous polyps that are 5 millimeters or less had a very low risk of developing into cancer. It adds that adenomatous polyps that are between 1.5 and 3.5 centimeters had a 19 to 43% chance of developing into cancer.

Polyps often do not present any symptoms. However, they sometimes cause blood to appear in the stool, or cause a person to have abdominal pain, constipation, or diarrhea.

A doctor usually detects polyps as a part of a routine screening during a colonoscopy.

Almost all colon cancer develops from polyps. While not all polyps can develop into cancer, doctors will often remove all polyps that they find.

Colonoscopy

A doctor will often remove polyps during a colonoscopy. This procedure involves passing a colonoscope through the rectum and into the colon.

The colonoscope has a camera and a wire attached to the end. This wire can burn or cut the polyp free from the colon wall.

The doctor will then remove the polyp from the body and send it to a pathologist who will test it for cancer.

Laparoscopy

If the polyp is particularly large, or is difficult to reach during a colonoscopy, a doctor may decide to remove it during a laparoscopy.

This is a surgical procedure that usually begins with a small incision in the abdomen or pelvic region. The doctor will then use a device called a laparoscope to remove the polyp.

The laparoscope is a slender device that has a light and a camera on its end. It can also have tools that the doctor can use to cut the polyp free.

A laparoscopy is a low-risk procedure that only requires small incisions.

Understanding biopsy reports

Once a doctor has removed a polyp from the body, they usually will send it off for a biopsy. This involves analyzing a piece of its tissue under a microscope.

The analysis is often used to determine whether the polyp is cancerous or not.

Routine biopsy results can take 1 or 2 days to come back once the sample has arrived at the lab.

During the biopsy the pathologist will either find normal or abnormal results.

Normal results mean that no cancerous or abnormal cells were present in the sample. In this instance, the polyp is labeled benign and not cancerous.

If the biopsy produces abnormal results, it means that the pathologist detected cancerous cells. This means that the polyp is cancerous.

Colon polyps are small growths on the lining of the colon. Some types of polyp can develop into cancer, while others do not.

If a doctor discovers polyps, they will often remove them via a colonoscopy or laparoscopy. The doctor will then send any removed polyps to a pathologist for a biopsy to see if cancer is present.

If the biopsy reveals that cancer is present, then cancer specialists will outline a treatment plan for the person. Common treatments for colon cancer include surgery, chemotherapy, and radiotherapy.