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Do Polyps Mean Colon Cancer?

Colon polyps usually are harmless. However, when colon cancer does occur, it most often starts as a polyp that becomes malignant over time. So polyps are sometimes cause for concern.

What are Polyps?

Polyps are extra tissue that grow on the lining of the large intestine or colon. Most cause no symptoms. But occasionally, they may lead to constipation or diarrhea lasting longer than a week, or bleeding.

Sometimes, polyps grow larger over time. Fortunately, most polyps aren't dangerous. But some polyps do eventually grow into colon cancer.

Who is At Risk for Developing Polyps?

Those older than age 50 face a much higher risk of developing polyps than younger people. And having a polyp ups your risk of having others. You also may face an increased risk for polyps if you have a family history of polyps or colon cancer. Other factors that might raise risk include eating a lot of fatty foods, smoking, drinking alcohol, being overweight and not exercising enough.

Screening for Polyps

Doctors remove all polyps and test them for cancer. Experts advise everyone ages 50 and older to be tested for colon cancer and polyps. If you have a family history of polyps or colon cancer, your doctor may recommend earlier screening.

Healthy Habits

Research suggests that 90 percent of colon cancers can be prevented. In addition to having screenings and getting any polyps tested, these healthy habits may help protect you:

  • Eat five or more servings of fruits and vegetables a day.
  • If you eat red meat, limit yourself to 3 ounces daily.
  • Exercise every day.
  • Maintain a healthy weight.
  • Don't smoke.
  • Avoid or limit alcohol.