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Polypectomy

What It is and Why It's Done

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Updated September 24, 2012

Written or reviewed by a board-certified physician. See About.com's Medical Review Board.

Bowel surgery, chemotherapy and radiation are fairly common terms when you're talking about colon cancer treatment. However, many people have not heard of the polypectomy, which is a minimally invasive procedure doctors use to remove small cancerous or non-cancerous growths from inside your colon

During the Colonoscopy

There are two different types of polypectomies that can be performed:

  • Snare polypectomy – The doctor loops a thin wire, called a snare, around the base of the polyp and uses heat to burn the polyp off and remove it. The heat also seals the wound so it stops bleeding.

  • Piece-meal polypectomy – When someone cannot tolerate bowel surgery due to health conditions, the doctor may choose to remove the colon tumors in pieces with this approach.

Regardless of the type, the procedure is most commonly performed during a colonoscopy, while you're under sedation. Most consent forms (the medical form you sign prior to the procedure that gives your written consent for the sedation and colonoscopy) list the possibility that a polypectomy might be performed during the procedure.

Throughout the colonoscopy, the doctor will be looking for any unusual growths in the colon. This is why completing a thorough bowel preparation prior to the procedure is so important. You want your doctor to see a clean colon; otherwise, growths can be missed. The growths can be small, benign (non-cancerous) polyps, or larger, pedunculated polyps that grow up on stalks (think of a mushroom).

You should not feel any pain or discomfort during this process, and you shouldn't be able to feel the doctor removing the polyps. If you feel any discomfort during the procedure, be sure to let your nurse or doctor know immediately.

If polyps were found on a computed tomography colonoscopy (virtual colonoscopy) and need to be removed, you will need an endoscopic colonoscopy to remove the polyps. Polyps cannot be removed during the virtual colonoscopy.

After the Polypectomy

The nurse will give you discharge instructions before you leave the facility. A responsible adult should drive or accompany you home, as you won't be in a state to drive—or sign legal documents—for at least 24 hours following sedation. You might feel groggy or tired from the medication you received, but that's to be expected. If your doctor took a biopsy tissue sample from your colon, you won't get the results immediately, but he or she can tell you what types, and how many, polyps were found. Certain types of polyps, such as the adenomatous polyp, are more likely to become cancerous.

Risks and Complications

The risks of polypectomy are similar to those of the colonoscopy and include rectal bleeding and perforation (making a hole) of the bowel. Although these risks are uncommon, you should report any continuous bleeding or abdominal pain to your doctor immediately. A little rectal bleeding is expected, but not a continuous flow of blood. Also, if the bowel was torn during the procedure, you will need bowel surgery to repair it.

Follow-Up Care

Call your doctor's office to schedule a follow-up appointment. If tissue samples were sent for biopsy, he or she will wait until those results are available, which can take days to weeks— depending on the speed of the pathologist (doctor who looks at the sample). Talk to your doctor if you take prescription blood thinners, such as Coumadin (warfarin), as those drugs can increase your risk of bleeding. Likewise, your doctor or nurse may inform you to abstain from aspirin, ibuprofen and other over-the-counter medications that can increase your risk of bleeding.

Sources:

American Cancer Society. (2006). American Cancer Society's Complete Guide to Colorectal Cancer. Clifton Fields, NE: American Cancer Society.

Royal Albert Edward Infirmary. (n.d.). What is a Polypectomy? Accessed September 13, 2012.

Wolfson Unit for Endoscopy. (n.d.). What is Polypectomy? Accessed September 13, 2012.

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