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What are Colorectal Polyps?

Colorectal polyps are abnormal growths of tissues that form on the internal lining of the large intestine. It affects both the colon and rectum. Some of them are flat while others have a stalk. Polyps are very common in adults. Almost 15-20 percent of the adult population can have polyps. Cast majority of these polyps are benign at the start, however as they increase in size they may become malignant, or cancerous.

As such, by removing polyps, one can actually prevent the cancer from occurring. Unfortunately, polyps are quiet and often do not have symptoms and thus remain undetected.


Types of colorectal polyps

These are the common types:

  • Hyperplastic polyps: These more commonly form near the end of the colon and are small in size. These have low malignancy potential and are less likely to become malignant, or cancerous.
  • Adenomatous polyps: These are the most common type of polyps and can occur anywhere in the colon. These are also not malignant but may turn cancerous with time.
  • Mixed polyps

What are the symptoms?

Generally, people feel no symptoms. In most of the cases, they are detected during a colonoscopy or scans (barium or CT) of the bowel. Very rarely, if the polyps are numerous or very large, one can have bleeding, mucus discharge or change in bowel habits. These days, when one does a stool occult test and this is positive for ‘invisible blood’, a colonoscopy is recommended and often polyps are found.

As such, one should do a colonoscopy once they reach 45 years old even if they feel well since they may be having polyps. Of course, if one is already having any of the above symptoms, a colonoscopy is even more important as it could save one’s life!

Causes and the risks involved

It is not exactly known what causes colorectal polyps. Most people develop this condition with advanced age. The healthy cells have a definite pattern to grow and divide. Polyps are likely to occur when some cells deviate from this.  However, it has been observed that colorectal polyps have a strong link with diets rich in fat, eating plenty of red meat, food containing little or fiber, smoking, drinking, obesity. Other than the lifestyle issues, chronic type 2 diabetes and family history of colorectal polyps increase the risk of developing polyps as well.

Diagnosis and treatment

Colorectal polyps can be diagnosed by the following tests:

  • Colonoscopy: It is the most effective test for diagnosing colorectal polyps. A flexible tube with a video camera at the tip is inserted into the anal passage to detect and remove the polyps.
  • CT colonography: In this process, a CT scan is used to check for polyps, but once detected they will still need to be removed using a colonoscopy.

Removing the polyp prevents it from becoming cancerous and thus doing a Colonoscopy can save one’s life!

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