A cecal polyp is a growth in the cecum, the pouch at the top of the large intestine. These growths are often benign in nature but have a potential to transform and turn malignant, making them a potential cause for concern. Some go undiagnosed until a patient dies of an unrelated cause and receives an autopsy, while others may be identified during screening for intestinal cancers and other medical testing or procedures where the inside of the cecum becomes visible. A doctor usually recommends removing the growth for safety.
These masses of tissue may be firmly attached to the wall of the cecum, in which case they are characterized as sessile, or they can be pedunculated, meaning that they are attached to a protruding stalk. The reasons for polyp formation are unclear; some patients may have a genetic predisposition while others may not, and they do not appear to be directly related to dietary habits. Many patients experience no symptoms.
Sometimes cecal polyps bleed, causing changes to the stool. If they become malignant, cancerous cells will start eating into the intestinal wall, causing diarrhea, pain, and more changes to the color of the stool. A doctor can perform an endoscopy using a camera on a long cable to inspect the cecum and take samples of any abnormalities he finds there. For convenience, the doctor may take out the entirety of a cecal polyp.
Extracting the whole growth will not harm the patient, and can have benefits. If it is malignant, the doctor does not need to schedule a second procedure to take the rest of the growth out. In the case of benign growths, removing the whole growth means it will not have an opportunity to develop into a malignancy. A pathologist can examine the cecal polyp to learn more about it and determine if any additional treatment is necessary.
These growths are very common, and are not necessarily an immediate cause for concern. If a doctor spots a cecal polyp on an endoscopy, the patient should not panic. The doctor will remove the growth entirely, dramatically reducing risks, and testing should quickly determine if the doctor needs to take any other actions.
Patients with a family history of intestinal cancers or with risk factors for cancer, like a history of inflammatory bowel disease, should consider additional screening for cancers. A doctor can determine the most appropriate tests and their frequency, striking the balance between exposing the patient to risks through excessive testing and failing to test early enough to spot cancers when they are still highly treatable.