Polyps are clusters of abnormal tissue growth that project from the walls of the organs in which they reside. The term "polyp" generally refers to those in the large intestine, or colon; however, they may also occur in the uterine wall, stomach or nose. Polyps form mutations that cause abnormal cell division but the exact cause of these formations is not known. Diet can contribute to reducing the incidence of recurrent polyps after they are removed from your colon.
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Colon Polyps and Cancer
Polyps generally begin as benign but can become cancerous over time. Colon polyps do not necessarily cause symptoms and the bigger they become, the higher the likelihood of turning malignant. One or many polyps can form and your chance of malignancy increases with multiple polyps. According to the College of American Pathologists, early detection of malignant polyps raises your survival rate up to 80 percent. People over the age of 50 are high risk for polyp development and annual screenings are essential for early detection. Additional risk factors include a diet high in saturated fats, smoking, excessive alcohol use and sedentary lifestyle.
During routine bowel examination your physician will likely remove polyps that are found. This occurs to test the cells for cancer and to lower your risk of benign polyps turning malignant. The majority of polyps are easily removed with a surgical snare, a wire loop that cuts the stalk and cauterizes it to stop bleeding. A surgical procedure -- often a laparoscopic surgery -- is necessary if your polyps are too large for removal by snare. Laparoscopic surgery involves several small incisions in your abdominal wall to remove the section of colon containing the polyp. In rare situations, a full removal of your colon or rectum may occur followed by bowel reconstruction.
A well-balanced diet including whole grains, fresh produce and beans is important for maintaining colon health. According to the American Institute for Cancer Research, these foods contain cancer-fighting substances that prevent abnormal cell development and inhibit tumor growth. Choose whole grains like wheat bread, bran cereal and brown rice instead of processed white grains to get the most nutrients. Eat a variety of fresh fruits and vegetables daily to increase your chance of restoring colon health and choose bean varieties for fiber to regulate your digestive tract. Limit your fatty food intake especially red meat, fried foods and processed meats.
Polyps are common in adults, but do not have to lead to colon cancer if you take precautions in your lifestyle habits. Participate in annual health screenings as you age to detect early polyp growth. Maintain a healthy weight through diet and regular exercise to lower your risk of polyp formation. Talk to your physician about smoking cessation if this is a factor and limit your alcohol consumption to two standard drinks per day or less.
- National Digestive Diseases Information Clearinghouse: What I Need to Know About Colon Polyps
- American Institute for Cancer Research; Mining New Sources of Phytochemicals; 2005
- American Society for Gastrointestinal Endoscopy: Understanding Polyps and Their Treatment
- College of American Pathologists: Colon Polyps
- MayoClinic.com; Dietary Fiber; Essential for a Healthy Diet; Mayo Clinic Staff; Nov. 2009