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Intestinal polyps, also known as bowel polyps, are small fleshy growths that can develop on the lining of the large intestine/colon or rectum.
They are very common, affecting around 25% of people at some point or other, and often don’t cause any symptoms. However, larger or multiple polyps may cause symptoms such as blood or mucus in your stools, changes in bowel habits (diarrhoea or constipation) and abdominal pain. The vast majority of intestinal polyps are benign, however certain types of polyps, called adenomas, may develop into cancer. This is rare and usually happens very slowly, but removing polyps is still recommended.
The method used to remove polyps may depend on where in the bowel they are located and how big they are. Smaller polyps are usually removed endoscopically, with a colonoscopy or sigmoidoscopy used to enable the consultant to access the polyp. These procedures involve a special scope being inserted into the colon via the rectum, through which very fine cutting tools can be passed. These are performed as outpatient procedures and don’t require general anaesthetic, so you would be able to go home shortly afterwards. However, larger or more complex polyps may require bowel surgery. In this case, general anaesthetic would be used and you may need to stay overnight in hospital and take time off work to recover.
The polyps will be examined closely in the lab for any signs of cancer or pre-cancerous cells. Also, removing intestinal polyps does not mean more won’t grow in the future, so routine screenings to check for further polyps is generally advised. Your consultant will be able to advise on what’s best for you.