Colon and rectal polyps

It’s common for adults to have abnormal growths in the lining of their colon or rectum. These growths are known as polyps.

They can lie flat or look like mushrooms sticking out from the tissue. Most polyps are harmless. But some can turn into colorectal cancer, or cancer of the colon or rectum. Since doctors don’t know which polyps will become a problem, any time we find these growths, we recommend removing them.

At UW Health, we routinely treat colon and rectal polyps. In most cases, removal is a simple procedure. It can also be a lifesaving one. For polyps that are cancerous, we offer expert treatment at the UW Carbone Cancer Center.

Symptoms and diagnosis

Early detection can prevent cancer

While some people experience signs and symptoms of colon or rectal polyps, most do not. Doctors typically diagnose polyps through colorectal cancer screening tests.

Signs and symptoms

If signs or symptoms do occur, they may include:

  • Abdominal pain

  • Bleeding

  • Change in bowel habits

  • Mucous discharge


Routine colorectal cancer screening often begins at age 45. However, people with a family history of the disease or other risk factors may need to start even earlier. Talking with your doctor can help you decide when to begin screening and which test is best for you. 

Screening tests include:

This is the most reliable test for finding polyps. It involves looking at your colon and rectum with a video camera attached to a long, flexible tube. After you undergo a bowel cleansing procedure, a doctor passes the tube through your rectum and colon. If doctors find a polyp during this test, they can often remove it right then. Sometimes polyps are already cancerous. If you catch them early you may not need more treatment. Other times, there are changes in the cells of the polyp that suggest it could turn into cancer. Removal may prevent cancer from developing. A doctor will look at the tissue in a lab to see if there are precancerous or cancerous cells.

These tests involve you providing a stool sample. Doctors look for hidden blood or altered DNA in the sample. These may be signs of polyps or cancer.

The test involves passing a thin, lighted tube through your rectum. Doctors use it to looks for polyps in the portion of your colon closest to your rectum and your rectum itself. The rectum is the lowest portion of your colon where your body stores stool. Like a colonoscopy, this test requires bowel cleansing beforehand.

Uses a CT scan to view your colon after a bowel cleansing procedure.

Treatments and research

Tailoring testing to your risk

Testing and treatment may occur the same day

Polyps are treated by removing them. If you have a history of polyps, you are likely to develop more in the future. Your doctor will talk with you about the best polyp screening schedule for you going forward. Safeguarding your continued health is our top priority.

A polypectomy involves either snipping away small polyps or snaring them with a wire loop. We may also eliminate the polyp with electrical current. A benefit of colonoscopy is that we can usually remove polyps at the same time as your screening test. If you have a different screening test, you may need a follow-up colonoscopy to remove any polyps doctors find.

Certain polyps require surgery to remove them. This is often due to their large size or specific location. Sometimes we can do surgery with a laparoscope. This involves making tiny incisions in your abdomen that allow us to insert a camera and special instruments. In other cases, we do open surgery.

Some people inherit conditions from their parents that cause polyps and increase their risk of cancer. In these cases, doctors may recommend complete removal of the colon and rectum.

Meet our team

A skilled and caring team from diagnosis through treatment

At UW Health, an experienced team provides your care. We bring together doctors from gastroenterology, surgery and anesthesiology. They deal with colon and rectal polyps every day. They guide you through diagnosis and treatment to make your experience as easy as possible.

Patient support and services

Helping you understand your options

These links will provide you with additional resources.


The care you need, where you need it

For your convenience we offer screening and treatment for polyps at multiple locations.