Polyps are growths in the lining of the colon or rectum that may be precancerous. If a polyp is detected, it can be removed during a colonoscopy and sent to a laboratory for further testing. In some cases, the polyp may contain cancer cells. This article provides an overview of what happens when a polyp contains cancer.
Detecting Cancer in Polyps
When a polyp is removed, it will be sent to a laboratory for further testing. The laboratory will examine the polyp under a microscope to determine if it contains cancer cells. If cancer cells are found, the laboratory will determine the type of cancer and the stage of the cancer. Depending on the results, the doctor may recommend additional testing or treatment.
What Happens Next?
If the polyp contains cancer cells, the doctor will discuss treatment options with the patient. Depending on the type and stage of the cancer, the doctor may recommend surgery, radiation therapy, chemotherapy, or a combination of treatments.
The doctor may also recommend that the patient have additional tests to determine if the cancer has spread to other parts of the body. These tests may include imaging tests, such as CT scans and MRI scans, or blood tests.
The patient may also need to see a specialist for additional tests or treatment. For example, if the cancer has spread to the liver, the doctor may refer the patient to a liver specialist.
If a polyp contains cancer cells, it is important to talk to a doctor about treatment options. With early diagnosis and treatment, most types of cancer can be treated successfully. It is important to follow the doctor’s instructions to ensure the best possible outcome.
If a routine colonoscopy discovers a growth, or polyp, in the large intestine and that polyp is determined to be cancerous, it is likely the patient has colorectal cancer. Colorectal cancer is one of the most common types of cancer and is considered to be the third most deadly form of cancer in the United States.
When a polyp is suspected of containing cancer, the first step is usually to remove the polyp and have it biopsied. If the biopsy reveals that the polyp contains cancerous cells, the next step is typically to determine the stage and grade of the cancer. The medical team will examine the specimen size, depth of invasion, and presence of lymph node or distant metastasis to determine the stage of the cancer.
The grade of the cancer is determined by examining the cancer cells under a microscope, comparing them to normal cells. Cells that appear nearly normal are labeled a grade I, and are typically less aggressive and less likely to spread. Grades II and III both reflect the degree of abnormality in the cells, with Grade III being the most abnormal—and most likely to spread—of the three.
Once the stage and grade of the cancer have been determined, the treatment plan can be tailored accordingly. Surgical removal of the tumor is often recommended, especially if it is found in its early stages. Most colorectal cancers are also treated with chemotherapy to kill any remaining cancer cells and to prevent the spread of the disease. Because the extent of the disease determines the choice of treatment and prognosis, removal of a suspected polyp is an important step in diagnosing and treating colorectal cancer.