Polyps are non-cancerous tumors that most commonly grow in the bowel, although they can also be found in other locations throughout the body. Although most polyps themselves are benign, they can be a precursor to certain types of colon cancer. Polyp surgery to remove the growth can be performed in several different ways, depending on the size and location of the growth. Some can be removed during a colonoscopy, while others require more invasive types of surgery.
The two most common types of polyps are hyperplastic and adenoma. While the hyperplastic is rarely at risk for cancer, the adenoma is considered a precursor for colon cancer, although the growth itself rarely becomes cancerous. Determining the type of polyp requires a biopsy of the growth. Doctors typically recommend removing all polyps so the type can be determined.
Polyps are typically rare in young adults, but very common in older adults. Those over age 60 have about a 25 percent chance of developing at least one. The size of polyps varies from less than one-quarter of an inch to several inches in diameter. While the smaller polyps may be easily removed during a routine colonoscopy, larger ones often require polyp surgery to remove them.
Polyps found during a colonoscopy can be removed using a wire snare looped around the polyp. The snare is tightened around the polyp’s stalk and an electrical current passes through the wire, coagulating the blood and cutting through the stalk. The removed polyp is sent to a lab for analysis. The procedure is considered safe and is usually painless, but does carry a small risk of perforating the bowel wall. Excessive bleeding also occurs in about one in 100 cases.
If a polyp is too large to remove during a colonoscopy, polyp surgery is typically recommended. Often, removal can be accomplished through endoscopic surgery. This type of surgery uses scopes inserted into small incisions or body openings to guide the removal of the polyps. It is a minimally invasive procedure, but still carries a small risk of infection or bowel perforation.
Growths larger than 1.5 inches, or about 4 centimeters, usually require a more invasive type of polyp surgery. If the base of a polyp is broad and it does not have a well-defined stalk, removing it endoscopically could carry a significantly high risk of bleeding or perforation. These types of polyps are also more likely to contain cancerous cells, and removing them by surgically opening the abdomen is usually the safest option.
Polyps can also be found in the uterus and cervix. While smaller growths can be left untreated and monitored over time, larger growths typically require polyp surgery. Typically, this is done through a hysteroscopy, which involves inserting a thin, lighted hysterscope into the vagina, through the cervix, and up into the uterus to locate the polyp, then threading surgical instruments through the hysterscope to remove the polyp.