Colon polyps: Detection, removal, and prevention


What is a colon polyp?

A colon polyp is a small cluster of cells that forms on the lining of the colon. While most colon polyps are benign, some can progress into colon cancer over time, which can be life-threatening when diagnosed at later stages.

Who can develop a colon polyp?

Colon polyps can develop in anyone, but certain factors increase the risk, including being 50 years or older, being overweight, or being a smoker. Individuals with a personal or family history of colon polyps or colon cancer are also at higher risk.

In most cases, colon polyps do not exhibit noticeable symptoms. Regular screening tests are crucial because polyps detected in their early stages can typically be safely and completely removed. The primary method to prevent colon cancer is through regular screening and the removal of polyps.

Symptoms of colon polyps

Most individuals with colon polyps remain asymptomatic, often unaware of their presence until a gastroenterologist identifies them during a colonoscopy. However, some people with colon polyps may experience the following:

  1. Changes in bowel habits: Persistent constipation or diarrhea lasting over a week may suggest the presence of a larger colon polyp or cancer, although other conditions can also cause these changes.
  2. Change in stool color: Blood can manifest as red streaks in stool or cause the stool to appear black. Changes in stool color can also result from certain foods, medications, or dietary supplements.
  3. Iron deficiency anemia: Slow, continuous bleeding from polyps can lead to iron deficiency anemia, characterized by fatigue and shortness of breath.
  4. Abdominal pain: Large colon polyps can obstruct part of the bowel, causing crampy abdominal pain.
  5. Rectal bleeding: This may be a sign of colon polyps, colon cancer, or other conditions such as hemorrhoids or minor anal fissures.

When to consult a gastroenterologist?

If you experience any of the following, it’s advisable to see a gastroenterologist:

  1. Abdominal pain
  2. Blood in your stool
  3. Persistent changes in your bowel habits lasting more than a week

Regular screening for polyps is recommended if:

  1. You are 50 years or older
  2. You have risk factors such as a family history of colon cancer. Some high-risk individuals may need to begin regular screening earlier than age 50

What causes the formation of colon polyps?

Normal cells follow an organized pattern of growth and division. Alterations in specific genes can lead to the uncontrolled division of cells, even when new cells are not required. Within the colon and rectum, this unrestrained cell growth can give rise to polyps, which can emerge anywhere within the large intestine.

There are two primary categories of polyps: nonneoplastic and neoplastic. Nonneoplastic polyps typically do not progress to cancer. Neoplastic polyps encompass adenomas and serrated types. Adenomas pose the highest risk of developing into cancer if allowed to grow unchecked. Serrated polyps also carry the potential for malignancy, depending on their size and location. In general, larger neoplastic polyps entail a greater cancer risk.

What are the risk factors for developing colon polyps?

Several factors may contribute to the development of colon polyps or cancer, including:

  1. Age: Most individuals with colon polyps are 50 years or older.
  2. Inflammatory intestinal conditions: Conditions like ulcerative colitis or Crohn’s disease affecting the colon elevate the overall risk of colon cancer, though the polyps themselves are not a significant threat.
  3. Family history: Having a parent, sibling, or child with colon polyps or cancer increases your own risk. If multiple family members are affected, the risk is further heightened. In some cases, this connection is not hereditary.
  4. Smoking and excessive alcohol use: Studies indicate that individuals who consume three or more alcoholic drinks per day have an increased risk of developing colon polyps. The combination of alcohol consumption and smoking further amplifies the risk.
  5. Obesity, sedentary lifestyle, and dietary habits: Increased risk is associated with being overweight, lacking regular exercise, and having an unhealthy diet.
  6. Race: Black Americans face a higher risk of colon cancer development.
  7. Hereditary polyp disorders: Some individuals inherit genetic abnormalities that lead to the formation of colon polyps. Having one of these genetic variants significantly elevates the risk of colon cancer. Early detection and screening can play a vital role in preventing the growth and spread of these cancers.

Hereditary disorders that predispose individuals to colon polyps include:

  1. Lynch syndrome, also known as hereditary nonpolyposis colorectal cancer. Individuals with Lynch syndrome typically develop a relatively small number of colon polyps, but these polyps have a heightened tendency to progress into cancer. Lynch syndrome is the most prevalent form of inherited colon cancer and is linked to tumors in other abdominal areas.
  2. Familial adenomatous polyposis (FAP), a rare condition leading to the development of hundreds or even thousands of polyps in the colon’s lining, often beginning during adolescence. Without intervention, the risk of colon cancer in individuals with FAP is nearly 100%, typically occurring before the age of 40. Genetic testing can help assess the risk of FAP.
  3. Gardner syndrome, a variant of FAP that results in polyp formation throughout the colon and small intestine. In addition, noncancerous tumors may develop in various parts of the body, including the skin, bones, and abdomen.
  4. MUTYH-associated polyposis (MAP), a condition resembling FAP, triggered by alterations in the MYH gene. People with MAP frequently develop multiple adenomatous polyps and colon cancer at a young age. Genetic testing can help gauge the risk of MAP.
  5. Peutz-Jeghers syndrome, a condition that often initiates with the appearance of freckles on the body, including the lips, gums, and feet. Subsequently, noncancerous polyps develop throughout the intestines, increasing the risk of colon cancer in affected individuals.
  6. Serrated polyposis syndrome, a condition leading to the formation of multiple serrated adenomatous polyps in the upper colon region. These polyps may have the potential to become cancerous and require monitoring or possible removal.

What are the complications of colon polyps?

Certain colon polyps can evolve into cancer. The earlier these polyps are removed, the lower the risk of malignancy.

Can colon polyps be prevented and how?

To significantly decrease the risk of colon polyps and colorectal cancer, consider the following strategies:

  1. Embrace a healthy lifestyle: Incorporate a diet rich in fruits, vegetables, and whole grains while minimizing fat intake. Restrict alcohol consumption and cease tobacco use. Stay physically active and maintain a healthy weight.
  2. Consult your gastroenterologist about calcium and vitamin D: Some studies suggest that increasing calcium intake may help prevent the recurrence of colon adenomas. However, it remains uncertain whether calcium provides protective benefits against colon cancer. Other research indicates that vitamin D may offer protection against colorectal cancer.
  3. Evaluate your options if at high risk: If you have a family history of colon polyps, genetic counseling may be beneficial. If you’ve been diagnosed with a hereditary disorder predisposing you to colon polyps, regular colonoscopies are necessary starting in young adulthood.

Why should I choose to have a colon polyp removal in Thessaloniki, Greece?

Choosing to have a colon polyp removal by Dr. Chris Zavos, a gastroenterologist based in Thessaloniki, Greece, offers several compelling reasons, underpinned by his extensive training and recognition in the field. Here’s why someone should consider Dr. Chris Zavos for this procedure:

  1. World-Class Training: Dr. Chris Zavos has received training at the prestigious Utrecht University Medical Center in The Netherlands. This signifies that he has been exposed to advanced medical knowledge, cutting-edge techniques, and international best practices in the field of gastroenterology. Patients can have confidence in the quality of care provided by a physician with such an impressive educational background.
  2. Specialized Expertise: As a gastroenterologist, Dr. Zavos specializes in the diagnosis and treatment of conditions affecting the digestive system, making him highly skilled and knowledgeable in the field of colon health. His expertise equips him to address colon polyps with precision and care.
  3. Research and Innovation: Dr. Chris Zavos’ recognition as one of the World’s Top 2% most-cited scientists in 2024 by Stanford University highlights his commitment to research and innovation in gastroenterology. Patients benefit from the latest advancements and evidence-based approaches to colon polyp removal.
  4. International Recognition: Stanford University’s acknowledgment of Dr. Zavos’ contributions to the scientific community underscores his global impact in the medical field. Choosing a gastroenterologist with international recognition provides assurance of high standards of medical practice.
  5. Quality of Care: Dr. Zavos’ background and training ensure that he adheres to the highest standards of patient care, safety, and outcomes. Patients can trust that their colon polyp removal procedure will be conducted with the utmost professionalism and attention to detail.
  6. Personalized Care: Dr. Zavos is likely to offer personalized treatment plans tailored to each patient’s unique needs. His experience and expertise enable him to recommend the most suitable approach for colon polyp removal, taking into account individual factors.
  7. Access to Advanced Technology: Being associated with Bioclinic, a reputable medical center in Thessaloniki, Greece, Dr. Zavos likely has access to state-of-the-art medical equipment and facilities, further enhancing the quality of the procedure.

You may call or email Dr. Zavos to learn the cost of a gastroscopy and colonoscopy in Thessaloniki Greece. Contact Dr. Zavos at: or +30-6976596988.

Last update: 25 April 2024, 21:35


Gastroenterologist - Hepatologist, Thessaloniki

PhD at Medical School, Aristotle University of Thessaloniki, Greece

PGDip at Universitair Medisch Centrum Utrecht, The Netherlands

Ex President, Hellenic H. pylori & Microbiota Study Group