An anal polyp, also known as a rectal polyp, is an abnormal, mushroom-like growth sticking out from the mucous membrane that lines the anus or colon. It typically starts as a microscopic and benign growth, but over time it can become malignant. Polyps need to be identified and removed as quickly as possible. The four types of anal polyps are inflammatory, hyperplastic, tubular adenoma or adenomatous, and villous adenoma or tubulovillous adenoma.
Inflammatory anal polyps are common in people with Chrohn's disease. It is actually an enlarged mass of mucous membrane that resembles a polyp, but isn’t in fact one. This mass is a reaction to some type of chronic inflammation in the anus. Inflammatory polyps are completely benign and cannot lead to cancer.
Hyperplastic polyps feature rapidly growing cancerous tissue that could potentially become malignant. Since a hyperplastic polyp is small, it carries a lower risk of danger. Due to its size it cannot be detected by a conventional colonoscopy, which means a doctor must perform a biopsy instead.
Tubular adenoma, or adenomas polyps, are the most common form of anal polyps, and make up 70% of all diagnosed anal and rectal polyps. This type of polyp manifests itself without any symptoms, which makes detection much harder. To make matters worse, adenomas polyps grow very slowly and can take years to become cancerous, after which they can be fatal. Individuals with a family history of tubular adenoma should undergo annual colon cancer screenings.
A villous adenoma, or tubulovilluous adenoma, polyp is present in only 15% of cases, but it is the most dangerous type of polyp. It is the highest risk polyp and is a much larger and threatening growth than the other types of polyps. Unlike the other polyps, villous adenomas usually attach themselves directly to the wall of the anus, which makes them more difficult to remove. Most cases of villous adenoma require surgery.
The treatment for an anal polyp differs based on which type it is. Individuals can lower their risk of polyp growth by obtaining annual cancer screenings and eating more fiber and calcium. Adding more calcium to the diet can potentially reduce the risk developing a polyp by 25%, but an increased calcium level can increase an individual’s risk for other cancers.
What Are Anal Polyps?
Anal polyps, which are also called rectal polyps, are clumps of cells that grow within the rectum or anus. They look like small bumps or growths and often cannot be seen without special medical equipment that helps doctors view the inside of the colon. Polyps are common in people with inflammatory bowel diseases such as Crohn's Disease, but these inflammatory polyps are slightly different than other anal polyps and do not indicate the presence of cancer. It's important to have an anal polyp checked out as soon as possible to determine whether it is benign or malignant — or whether it is the sign of an underlying medical condition.
Symptoms of Anal Polyps
Many anal polyps do not have symptoms and are only discovered during a routine colonoscopy. People who notice symptoms may experience the following:
- Rectal bleeding
- Mucous in their stools
- Blood in their stools
- Stomach or bowel pain
- A noticeable growth or a protrusion around the anus
- Diarrhea or constipation that is not normal for the patient
Diagnosis of Anal Polyps
Polyps can be diagnosed if you notice abnormalities in your bowel habits or bleeding or mucus in your stool when you have a bowel movement. If you have any doubts or your body does not feel right, contact your doctor. He or she will perform an examination and ask you questions about your symptoms, and you may be referred to a gastroenterologist for a more thorough examination and a colonoscopy.
Differences Between Anal Polyps and Related Conditions
Patients with inflammatory bowel conditions such as Crohn's disease often have inflammatory polyps, but these growths are not cancerous and are simply an uncomfortable symptom of this condition. If you don't know what's causing your polyps, it is essential that you get checked out by a qualified medical professional.
If you have a long-established medical condition that causes frequent noncancerous polyps (like Crohn's), these polyps may not need to be removed. Anal polyps in otherwise healthy patients are typically removed as it is impossible to predict which ones will develop into cancer and which ones will remain benign.
Risk Factors for Anal Polyps
You have a higher risk for anal polyps and associated symptoms if you are over the age of 50, smoke cigarettes, or are overweight. If you have had polyps before, this puts you at risk for additional ones. Similarly, if your close family members have been diagnosed with polyps, this increases your chance of diagnosis as well.
How To Get Rid of Anal Polyps
Though the idea of anal polyps can sound scary to many patients, you should know that when caught early, these polyps are relatively easy to treat. Read through the medical treatments your doctor may suggest and the lifestyle changes you may be asked to make below.
Most often, polyps do not cause symptoms or discomfort for the patient and are discovered through a routine colonoscopy. It's nearly impossible to tell if a polyp will develop into cancer (if it is not already cancerous, so most medical professionals advise the removal of all polyps when they are discovered). Thankfully, polyps can be successfully removed during the colonoscopy without additional appointments or downtime for the patient. Your doctor may recommend more frequent screenings and lifestyle changes to try to combat the problem in the future.
You can lower your chances of getting anal polyps (or additional polyps if you've already had some removed) by eating more fruits and vegetables to increase the fiber in your diet. You can try adding other healthy sources of fiber such as beans, whole-grain cereal, and not eating too many unhealthy foods. You may be advised to either lose weight or gain weight, depending on your overall body composition and diet.
Do Anal Polyps Bleed?
Yes, anal polyps can bleed. Rectal bleeding can be troubling, but many patients dismiss it as a sign of hemorrhoids in the absence of other symptoms or stomach pain. If you have never experienced rectal bleeding or mucous in your stool, please don't ignore these signs. Getting checked out could prevent these polyps from developing into something worse, and in extreme cases, it could save your life.
Do Anal Polyps Hurt?
Yes, anal polyps can hurt. They do not always cause pain, but they can cause a range of symptoms from vague abdominal pain to severe cramping that comes with blood or mucous in the stool. Don't rely on the severity of symptoms to guide your choices: Remember that many people have cancerous polyps with no symptoms at all.