What is a polyp? I hear that question a lot. The word itself sounds foreign and strange to most, but polyps are actually fairly common.

About one in four patients will have a polyp at the time of their first colonoscopy. A colon polyp is an abnormal growth of the inner lining of the colon. These growths are the result of changes in the DNA of colon cells. This change can occur at any age but tends to happen as we get older. It’s important to take colon health seriously. Identification and removal of polyps are the main reason people need to have routine colonoscopies. Polyps can lead to colon cancer, and early identification can prevent that from occurring.

I know a colonoscopy can be a little daunting, but the benefit for your long-term health is incredible. Technologically, we have come a long way, and this procedure is not nearly as complicated as you might think. During a colonoscopy, most polyps that are identified can be removed immediately. Removal is accomplished with a variety of techniques, but for the most part, these growths are snared with a special instrument passed through the endoscope and removed from the surrounding healthy tissue. Complicated or large polyps may require additional planning and another procedure. If a polyp is too big or in a difficult spot, it may need to be removed by a formal surgical procedure. Follow-up procedures are typically scheduled at specific yearly intervals depending on the number and type of polyps found.

The most significant concern of patients is the potential for complications. I want to assure everyone that complications are very rare. From my surgical perspective, the most difficult element is preparation. This process does require time and effort from patients. It is without question the most tasking part of receiving a colonoscopy. During the procedure, things usually go quite well with virtually no pain or special instructions for recovery.

Please do me and yourself a favor; the next time your doctor brings up the subject of a colonoscopy, listen carefully. Think about it. I know we don’t like to subject ourselves to undue discomfort, but a coloscopy could save your life.

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Dr. Timothy Monson is a general surgeon at Tri-County Health Care.