Polyps and the Symptoms of Colon Cancer

James D. Lewis, MD
Last Modified: November 1, 2001

Dear OncoLink "Ask the Experts,"
Ten years ago I had polyps. They were not cancerous. Could they become cancerous? What are the symptoms of colon cancer?  
Thank you.

James D. Lewis, MD, MSCE, Assistant Professor of Medicine, Senior Scholar at the Center for Clinical Epidemiology and Biostatistics, and Senior Fellow in the Leonard Davis Institute of Health Economics at the University of Pennsylvania, responds:

Dear JW,
Regarding polyps, some can become cancerous. However, if your polyps were completely removed, they are unlikely to become cancerous. Importantly, even if your polyps were removed, you could develop new polyps. You should speak with your primary care physician about colon cancer surveillance.

Colon cancer can present with many different symptoms. Among these are:

  • abdominal pain
  • change in your bowel habits (such as new constipation)
  • weight loss
  • rectal bleeding
  • blood in the stool (on the stool, in the toilet bowl, or on the tissue paper)
  • persistent abdominal cramps
  • chronic diarrhea or constipation
  • unusual fatigue.
Importantly some patients with colon cancer may have no symptoms at all. This is why regular screening and communication with your doctor is so important.