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Dr. Minocha  is a practicing gastroenterologist and author of "Natural Stomach Care: Treating and Preventing Digestive Disorders with Best of Eastern and Western Therapies"

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  • Polyps can be of various sizes, shapes and microscopic structure. Most polyps, when examined under the microscope, demonstrate a benign pathology. However, some of these "benign" polyps can and do go on to become cancer, and are thus precancerous. This type of polyp is known as adenoma. Most colon cancers arise from these precancerous polyps. It takes about 5-10 years for a benign polyp to transform into cancer. While most colon cancers arise from these polyps, most precancerous polyps do not go on to cancer. Polyps of the "hyperplastic" variety are not believed to be precancerous.

  • As is the case with colon polyps, colon cancer is uncommon before the age of 40, and increases with one's increasing age. While most polyps and early cancers may not cause any symptoms, large polyps may cause some abdominal pain, altered bowel habit or bleeding.
  • In order to prevent deaths due to colon cancer, it is necessary to detect polyps or early cancers before they cause symptoms. Screening for polyps in average risk subjects over forty years of age without symptoms involves annual testing of the feces for occult blood. When colonoscopy (lower GI scope) is performed in patients testing positive for occult blood, as many as 5-12% are found to have cancer despite being asymptomatic. In addition, precancerous polyps are found among 20-38% of these subjects. Testing the stools for occult blood every year reduces deaths due to colon cancer by 30 percent.  

  • A sigmoidoscopy (scope of rectum and lower colon) is recommended in all average risk subjects after the age of 50 years. Sedatives are generally not used for this procedure. This screening test reduces the risk of dying from colon cancer by as much as 80 percent. If the test is negative, a repeat examination is recommended every five years. On the other hand, if a precancerous polyp is found on sigmoidoscopy, an examination of the entire colon is usually performed to look for coexisting polyps in the rest of the colon.








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