Q: How long does it take for cancer to form on a colon polyp?
A: Time is on your side when it comes to colorectal cancer forming in a polyp. The process is estimated to take 10 years — a period that leaves ample opportunity for early discovery and treatment.
We’ll get to the detection part, but first, let’s explain what goes into a colon polyp forming and turning cancerous.
A colon polyp begins with a gene mutation in one of the countless stem cells lining your colon. These cells are constantly dividing — and with each division, mutations get passed along and added.
This is where it helps to know that cells in your colon not only divide a lot, but also grow a lot. How much exactly? Put it this way: You replace the entire lining of your colon once a week.
Now, as cells with mutations build up on the lining of your colon, they can form a small cluster that appears as a polyp. The polyp can enlarge, as mutated cells start growing faster and living longer.
Eventually, in this all this activity, it’s possible that a mutation takes a cancerous turn.
Thankfully, this is a slow-moving process — and that gives you the chance to stay a step ahead of colorectal cancer. This brings us back to the importance of early detection.
Getting a colonoscopy or another type of screening can help you find and remove polyps while they’re still in the benign or precancerous stage. By doing that, you eliminate the potential for problems.
So, use the decade of time you’re given to your advantage. Colon screenings are recommended beginning at age 45 or earlier depending on risk factors. Talk to your healthcare provider about getting tested. Doing so could be life-saving.
— Colorectal surgeon Rebecca Gunter, MD.