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An adenomatous polyp is a mass of precancerous tissue that develops along the lining of the large intestine. Most growths are very small and do not cause noticeable physical symptoms in their early stages. Over time, an individual can experience rectal bleeding, cramping, and fatigue. The chances of an adenomatous polyp actually becoming malignant are relatively low, but doctors usually recommend surgery to remove suspicious growths to eliminate the risk altogether. When polyps are detected and treated early, patients can expect satisfactory recoveries.
Colonic polyps are very common, and most are entirely benign. About ten percent of all polyps are adenomatous, however, and have the potential of becoming cancerous over time. The exact causes of adenomatous polyps are not well understood, but doctors believe that genetic factors play the most significant role in their development. Dietary and lifestyle choices are believed to be implicated as well, as many patients who have polyps drink alcohol and consume higher than average quantities of fat and meat. Most people who develop polyps are over the age of 50, though they can potentially arise at any age.
A typical adenomatous polyp is small, usually less than 0.4 inches (about 1 centimeter) in diameter. Upon inspection, it may look like a flat discolored spot, a protruding lump, or a mass on top of a thin stalk. The physical appearance of an adenomatous polyp helps a doctor determine the likelihood of it becoming cancerous: larger protruding masses become malignant more often than flat spots and stalks.
Many polyps never cause symptoms and may go undetected for several years. As an adenomatous polyp grows, however, it may irritate the lining of the bowel and cause bleeding. Blood in the stools, constipation, and frequent abdominal cramps are all signs that a polyp may be present. An individual who experiences any abnormal gastrointestinal symptoms or changes in bowel movement habits should visit his or her doctor for a checkup.
A physician can conduct a colonoscopy to view the lining of the colon with a tiny camera. If a polyp is noticed, the doctor can extract a piece of tissue from the mass for further study. Laboratory tests can reveal whether or not the tissue is benign, precancerous, or malignant. Treatment options depend on the size, nature, and location of polyps.
Small polyps near the rectum can often be removed with an electrical wire snare. The wire is looped around the polyp to sever it and cauterize the underlying tissue. Larger or deeper polyps usually require endoscopic surgery. A surgeon makes several small cuts in the lower abdomen and uses precision tools to locate masses, carefully cut them out, and repair the lining.
If an adenomatous polyp has already turned malignant, additional procedures may be necessary. In a severe case, part or all of the colon may be removed to prevent cancer from spreading. Chemotherapy and radiation treatments are needed if cancer persists and affects other body tissue.