Polypectomy and the Early Detection of Colon Cancer

Illustration of a polyp being removed

Polypectomy is a term used to describe a minimally invasive procedure in which doctors remove abnormal growths of tissue, called polyps, from inside your colon. It is used as a means to assess whether the growth is cancerous, precancerous, or non-cancerous.

The suffix "-ectomy" means to remove or the act of cutting out.

How a Polypectomy Is Performed

A polypectomy is most commonly performed during a procedure called a colonoscopy in which a long, flexible scope (called a colonoscope) is inserted into the rectum.

A colonoscopy is a routine exam recommended for adults 50 years of age or older to check for any growths that may indicate cancer. Most medical consent forms include language which states that a polypectomy may be performed during the course of a colonoscopic exam.

There are two different types of polypectomies that may be used:

  • Snare polypectomy is a technique in which the doctor loops a thin wire, called a snare, around the base of the polyp and uses heat to simultaneously cut off the growth and cauterize the wound.
  • Piece-meal polypectomy is used to remove large growths that would otherwise be removed by surgery. If a person is unable to undergo bowel surgery, this technique removes the growth piece by piece during the course of a colonoscopic procedure.

To prepare for the procedure, you would be asked to undergo thorough bowel preparation a day or so in advance to ensure the colon is clear and free of any visual obstruction. This can involve the use of a laxative, enema, and a clear food diet.

On the day of the procedure, you will be interviewed by an anesthetist who will ask if you have any allergies or prior bad experiences to anesthesia. Once you are prepped and dressed in a hospital gown, you will be laid on your side on the examining table with your knees pulled toward your chest. The procedure can take anywhere from 20 minutes to an hour.

The growths themselves can be small and uncomplicated or larger, pedunculated polyps that grow up on stalks like a mushroom. Once removed, the polyps are sent to a pathology lab to assess whether there is any sign of colon cancer. Results are usually returned within a week, sometimes longer.

After the Polypectomy

After the polypectomy, the doctor or nurse will give you instructions on what to expect and the symptoms to look out for. It is not unusual to feel groggy and unsteady on your feet. As such, it is advised that a friend or family member drive you home and to do so for the next 24 hours.

While there is usually little pain following the removal of a smaller polyp, a non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drug (NSAID) may be prescribed if the removal has been more extensive.

The risks of polypectomy are similar to those of the colonoscopy and can include rectal bleeding and perforation of the bowel. Will these complications are considered rare, you should contact your doctor immediately if you experience any of the following adverse symptoms:

  • fever or chills
  • heavy bleeding (more than a teaspoon at a time)
  • severe abdominal pain or bloating
  • vomiting
  • irregular heartbeats (arrhythmia)

Speak with your doctor if you take any prescription blood thinner, such as warfarin, as it can increase your risk of bleeding.

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