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Most bowel cancers develop from pre-cancerous growths in the bowel, called polyps. What are they? And why do they occur in the body?
The charity Guts UK described a poly as a “fleshy growth” on the inside of the bowel.
Polyps can appear on a “stalk” – akin to a mushroom – or they may be much flatter and have a broad base.
They’re usually benign (meaning they’re non-canceorus), however some may become malignant (cancerous).
Specifically, an “adenoma polyp” has been identified as the most likely to turn cancerous.
Experts agree that one in 10 adenoma polyps will become cancerous. However, polyps in general “seem to be very common” in England.
What causes polyps?
Guts UK explained the lining of the bowel “constantly renews itself” – just like other organ linings.
There are millions of tiny cells in the bowel lining that grow, serve their purpose and die before new cells take their place.
The DNA instructs the cells how to behave and grow, but mutations can lead to faulty instructions being handed out.
When this happens, the cells can grow quickly, producing a small bump on the bowel surface known as a polyp.
In the medical field, it’s agreed that most cancers begin from polyps, thus removing them is key in the prevention of the disease.
Benign polyps turn malignant when DNA mutations cause the cells to “extend through the wall of the bowel”.
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There is a genetic tendency to developing polyps, so people can develop them at a younger age when there is a familial predisposition to do so.
Polyps don’t usually cause symptoms, so many people may have them and are unaware.
However, rectal bleeding could signal both benign and malignant polyps in the bowel.
Polyps can be removed during a colonoscopy (where a thin tube is passed through the anus into the colon).
Patients will be sedated to ease any discomfort, and then a wire is looped around the polyp to remove it.
In order to minimise your risk of bowel cancer, any rectal bleeding needs to be discussed with your GP.
Furthermore, Guts UK recommends “a healthy diet” full of “fruit and vegetables” as they’re good for bowel movements.
Symptoms of bowel cancer
Aside from rectal bleeding – whereby medical professionals need to be alerted – there are other signs of bowel cancer to be aware of.
Symptoms of bowel cancer include “unusual episodes of diarrhoea or constipation” that last for two months or longer.
Another sign is “an increase in the amount of mucus in the stool” that persists for a while.
“If you have a family history of bowel cancer you should visit your doctor within a few weeks of any changes,” warned the charity.
The sooner bowel cancer is detected, the better the chances of being cured from the otherwise deadly disease.
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