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Do polyps increase colon cancer risk?

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Updated: September 3, 2006

 Donna Myers 2006 (coloncancer.guide@about.com)
Donna Myers 2006

Question: Do polyps increase colon cancer risk?


The short answer is yes. Your risk of developing colon cancer increases when you have polyps and even if your parent, sibling, or child has polyps.

Answer: Let's start with you. Polyps don't always become cancerous, but your risk of developing colon cancer increases with the number and size of polyps you have. Approximately one percent of polyps with a diameter less than a centimeter are cancerous. If you have one little polyp that size, the American Cancer Society (ACS) recommends that the doctor remove it and that you receive another colonoscopy three to six years later. (Without any polyps, the due date would have been ten years later.)

If you have more than one polyp or the polyp is bigger than a centimeter, you're considered at even higher risk for colon cancer. After your polyps are removed, you'll probably be asked to get another colonoscopy in three years. The doctor may also test the polyp since up to 50% of polyps greater than two centimeters (about the diameter of a nickel) are cancerous.

Relatives with Polyps

When it comes to polyps and colon cancer risk, family history is important. It's probably not the most comfortable conversation to have, but you should find out if your parents, siblings, or children have ever had any colon polyps. If they have, you're not in the average-risk category for colon cancer anymore.

If two or more first-degree relatives have had polyps, the ACS recommends that you receive your first colonoscopy at age 40 or ten years before the age when your relative's polyp was found, whichever is earlier. Both of my parents have had polyps, so I'll be getting a colonoscopy when I'm 40 instead of when I'm 50.

Another family scenario that would increase your risk is if one first-degree relative had a polyp before age 60. So, one parent with a polyp or one sibling with a polyp. The same higher-risk recommendations apply. So if your brother had a polyp removed when he was 45, the ACS says you should get a colonoscopy when you're 35.

Sources:
  1. Buetow, P. and Buck, J. "Colorectal Adenocarcinoma." RadioGraphics 15.1 (Jan. 1995). 28 Aug. 2006 [http://www.rsna.org/REG/publications/rg/afip/privateM/1995/0015/0001/0127/1.htm#topAnchor].
  2. Detailed Guide: Colon and Rectum Cancer: What Are the Risk Factors for Colorectal Cancer? American Cancer Society. 7 Mar. 2006. 28 Aug. 2006 [http://www.cancer.org/docroot/CRI/content/CRI_2_4_2X_What_are_the_risk_factors_for_colon_and_rectum_cancer.asp].

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