Bowel polyps are small growths on the lining of the large intestine (colon) or rectum. They're very common and not usually serious, but sometimes they can lead to bowel cancer.
Bowel polyps are also called colonic or colorectal polyps.
Symptoms of bowel polyps
Bowel polyps do not usually cause any symptoms, so most people with polyps will not know they have them.
They are often found during a colonoscopy, for example if you're being checked for another bowel condition, like bowel inflammation or cancer.
Rarely, larger polyps can cause symptoms such as:
- a small amount of slime (mucus) or blood in your poo
- bleeding from your bottom
- a change in your normal bowel habits, such as diarrhoea or constipation
- losing weight without trying
Non-urgent advice: See a GP if:
- you have slime (mucus) or blood in your poo for 3 weeks or more
- your bowel habit is different to normal
- you are constipated and it's not improving with treatment, or it happens regularly and lasts a long time
- you've lost a noticeable amount of weight without trying
Try not to be embarrassed. The doctor or nurse will be used to talking about these symptoms.
Urgent advice: Ask for an urgent GP appointment or get help from NHS 111 if:
- you've had diarrhoea for more than 7 days
- your poo is black or dark red
- you have bloody diarrhoea
You can call 111 or get help from 111 online.
Immediate action required: Go to A&E or call 999 if:
- you're bleeding non-stop from your bottom
- there's a lot of blood – for example, the toilet water turns red or you see large blood clots
Bowel polyps and bowel cancer
Polyps are usually harmless and do not become cancerous. But in a small number of cases a polyp can become cancerous over many years.
Bowel cancer screening can help find polyps that are more likely to develop into bowel cancer. These polyps are then removed.
Diagnosing bowel polyps
If your GP thinks your symptoms could be caused by bowel polyps, they may recommend a colonoscopy or a CT colonography.
A colonoscopy is where a long, thin flexible tube with a small camera at the end (a colonoscope) is passed into your bottom and guided up into your bowel to look for polyps.
A colonoscopy should not be painful, but can feel uncomfortable.
A CT colonography scan uses X-rays and a computer to create a detailed image of your bowel and show any polyps. You'll be given special liquid before the scan so that your bowel can be seen clearly.
Treatment for bowel polyps
Bowel polyps are usually removed while having a colonoscopy.
A wire loop that is part of the colonoscope will cut off (snare) or burn off (cauterise) the polyp. This is called a polypectomy and is painless.
Rarely, when there are lots of polyps or a polyp is very large, surgery may be needed to remove part of the bowel.
After the polyp or polyps have been removed, they're sent to a lab to check if:
- the polyp has been completely removed
- there's any risk of it regrowing
- there's any cancerous changes in the polyp
If there are cancerous changes in the polyp, you may need further treatment. Your specialist will advise you about this.
Causes of bowel polyps
The exact cause of bowel polyps is not known. It's thought they're caused by the body producing too many cells in the lining of the bowel.
These extra cells then form into a bump, which is the polyp.
You may be more likely to develop bowel polyps if:
Page last reviewed: 28 July 2023
Next review due: 28 July 2026