Colon Polyps A Warning Sign for Cancer

We have learned that the mucosa has various modifications that enhance absorption of nutrients across it. The mucosa of the colon, however, has some modifications that are definitely not health-enhancing!

These modifications are colon polyps (PAHL-ips). A polyp is literally a little ''foot.'' It is a small, ''foot''-shaped growth that projects from the surface of a mucous membrane. Although the mucosa of the large intestine is not the only place where polyps can occur, it is a very dangerous place, because they often grow for long periods, undetected.

A potentially life-saving procedure to detect colon polyps is colonoscopy (koh-lahn-AHS-koh-pee) - an ''examination of'' (-oscopy) the ''colon'' with a lighted instrument. The colonoscope (koh-LAHN-oh-skohp) can be inserted far into the rectum, all the way up into the cecum! The examining physician can visually detect colon polyps at high magnification, and see them projecting like shiny little feet from the colon mucosa.

The most common type of polyps are hyperplastic (high-per-PLAS-tik) polyps. These are benign (beh-NINE) - ''kind'' or non-cancerous polyps -that simply represent an ''excessive or above normal'' (hyper-) ''formation'' (-plasia) of epithelial cells. This type never evolves into colon cancer, but can cause rectal bleeding if they become too large.

The polyps that are dangerous are called adenomatous (ad-eh-NOH-mah-tus) polyps. These are literally ''gland'' (aden) ''tumors'' (-omas) that are shaped like little ''feet'' (polyps). Although the adenomatous polyps themselves, are benign, they are considered precancerous polyps that, if left to grow long enough, can develop into full-blown cancer of the colon.

One type of precancerous polyp is the villotubular (vil-oh-TOOB-you-lar) adenoma (ad-eh-NOH-mah). When a villotubular adenomatous polyp is removed during colonoscopy and examined under a microscope, a highly abnormal pattern of cellular architecture (cellular arrangement) is observed. Specifically, the tissue sample has fine, ''hair'' (villo-) projections sticking out of its mass of epithelial cells. And in between these hair-like villi, are hollow

''little tubes'' (tubul). This highly unusual mixture of abnormal cellular patterns is the probable forerunner of colon cancer.

Everyone is recommended to have a routine screening colonoscopy by age 50, or much earlier, if a history of colon cancer runs in the family, or if rectal bleeding has been experienced.

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