Rectal polyps are abnormal growths of tissue on the lining of the rectum, a part of the large intestines. Rectal polyps that remain in the intestines for a long period—usually several years—may eventually grow into cancerous tumors. In most cases, rectal polyps do not produce any symptoms. When symptoms do occur, you should schedule a screening test as soon as possible.
Some rectal polyps are flat, and some grow on a stalk. According to the National Cancer Institute, flat polyps are more likely to become cancerous. They are also more difficult to detect during screening and are more difficult to remove.
According to Merck.com, the most common symptom of rectal polyps is bleeding from the rectum. The blood may be bright red and visible, or it may be dark and hidden in the stool.
Cramping and Pain
Rectal polyps sometimes cause abdominal cramping, pain or an almost constant sense of fullness. These symptoms are more likely to occur if polyps are very large. Large rectal polyps may also cause an obstruction in the intestines.
Changes in Bowel Function
A noticeable change in bowel habits is sometimes a symptom of rectal polyps. Diarrhea or constipation that lasts longer than a week may indicate the presence of large polyps.
Rectal cancer is preventable if polyps are detected early. Because these polyps often become cancerous without producing any symptoms, the American Cancer Society recommends routine screening for all individuals (see Resources). Guidelines vary according to age and other risk factors.
Certain risk factors increase your chances of developing rectal polyps. Since these polyps usually do not display any symptoms, it’s important to be aware of the risk factors and begin screening as recommended. Two of the most common risk factors, according to the Mayo Clinic, are age and family history. After age 40, the risk of having rectal polyps increases. You also are at increased risk if you have a close relative who has had colon polyps or colon cancer. Other risk factors include being overweight, an inactive lifestyle, a history of an inflammatory bowel disease and use of tobacco and alcohol.