Colon Polyps and Cancer

Condition Summary

Cancer of the colon is a major health problem in the United States, ranking as one of the most prevalent forms of cancer, along with lung cancer and breast cancer. Importantly, colon cancer is also one of the most treatable forms of cancer. When detected early more than 90 percent of patients can be cured.

This disease begins in the cells that line the colon. There now is strong medical evidence that there are abnormal genes that can influence the development of colon polyps and cancer, and that these genes can be hereditarily passed from parent to child. The genes within each cell are the hereditary structures that tell the cell what it should do. When normal controlling genes are absent there is a tendency to grow polyps. The cells in the polyp eventually become uncontrolled and turn into a cancer. Colon cancer also can develop with other conditions, such as ulcerative colitis, a chronic inflammation in the colon.

What is a Colon Polyp?
A polyp is a growth, or fleshy tumor that occurs in the colon or other organs. These growths are shaped like a mushroom or a dome-like button, and occur on the inside lining of the colon. They may be as small as a tiny pea, or larger than a plum. Colon polyps start out as benign tumors but in time may become malignant.

What Causes Colon Polyps / Cancers to Form?
A great deal is known about why and how polyps form. In some people, heredity and genes are the most important factors. In others, heredity may be a contributing factor, but diet and foods may also be very important.

Who is At Risk?

The key to early detection of colon polyps and cancer is the concern and willingness of each person to seek medical attention from a physician. The physician generally will perform the following:

Cancer of the colon is a serious but readily detected malignancy. Early detection promises a particularly high chance of survival. Most colon cancers start as polyps, which can usually be removed through a colonoscopic exam. Today, there is much that can be done to prevent and cure this cancer. The essential first step involves action by the patient.