What Happens if a Polyp Is Cancerous?

The great majority of polyps we remove during colonoscopies are benign. However, because almost all colon cancers begin as a seemingly benign polyp, we generally remove any polyps we discover. Once removed, we send them to a laboratory and look at them under a microscope for further testing. This testing will determine if they are harmless, precancerous, or cancerous.

Removing a Suspicious Polyp

There is no way for us to know for sure how dangerous a polyp might be without first removing it. This is why we completely remove every polyp and send it for testing.

Simple Removal

Most polyps are removed during the course of a colonoscopy and require no further treatment if benign. We do this using a special tool that we feed through the scope. The tool has a wire loop on the end. This loop will snare and remove most polyps.

Advanced Resection Techniques

When polyps are too large for the wire loop tool, we may need to remove them using an advanced resection technique. These techniques may also be utilized then polyps are too flat to snare with the wire. They include:

  • Endoscopic Mucosal Resection
  • Endoscopic Submucosal Dissection

Your doctor will explain which will work best for your situation depending on the location and depth of the polyp.

Understanding Your Biopsy Results

It may take a week or so for your doctor to receive the results from your biopsy. When we receive the results from the laboratory, we call the patient to schedule an appointment to review them. During this appointment, we can explain what was found and put a plan in place for your future.

In most cases, the results of these biopsies are negative. The tissue is normal, with no precancerous or cancerous cells. We may want to schedule your next colonoscopy to check for polyps sooner than we previously planned, though. If you have one polyp, you are at an increased risk for others.

If they found precancerous cells, there is no need for any additional treatment as long as they removed the entire polyp. Removing the tissue stops the development of cancer. Since you are still at an increased risk, we will likely recommend repeating the screening every three to five years in the future.

Positive results mean they found cancerous cells in the laboratory. We will discuss your situation with you fully, helping you understand your diagnosis and recommending the best course of treatment based on the information we got from your colonoscopy and clinical findings.

Getting the Right Treatment

The treatment you need to treat your colon cancer depends on a number of factors. In many cases, routine colon screenings such as colonoscopies allow us to identify cancerous polyps early enough that only the polypectomy and/or local excision is necessary. This means if we removed the entire polyp during your colonoscopy, you may not need additional treatment.

Surgery to remove additional tissue in the area may be necessary if the cancer has grown beyond the lining of the colon. This is known as a colectomy. During this surgery, the surgeon will likely use minimally invasive surgical techniques to remove the area of colon with the entire polyp and a section of healthy tissue around it. This allows for “clean margins,” ensuring all the cancer was removed. They will also take out some of your lymph nodes to see if your cancer has spread.

If there are signs of metastasizing to other areas of the body or your cancer is at an advanced stage, your doctor may also recommend radiation, chemotherapy, or other therapy.

The best thing you can do after a colon cancer diagnosis is to listen to the recommendations of your doctors. Your doctor will be able to offer the best treatment plan possible based on your condition. Often, thanks to regular colonoscopies, we are able to catch these cancerous growths early enough that they have not yet spread to other areas of the body.