Does inflammatory bowel disease (IBD) increase my risk of colon cancer?

Inflammatory bowel disease (IBD) does increase your chances of getting cancer of the colon, or large intestine, over time, but it is important to note that there's no notable change for the first seven years you have IBD, and the odds of getting cancer remain below 10 percent for the first twenty years. In fact, more than 90 percent of people with IBD don't get colon cancer. People with IBD will probably need to be screened for colon cancer more often and begin at a younger age than those who don't; work with your healthcare providers to decide when to begin screening if you haven't yet. Remember that taking care of your IBD may help prevent colon cancer—for example, remission through proper treatment for Crohn's disease can lower your risk of colon cancer.

Yes. Inflammatory bowel disease (IBD), which includes ulcerative colitis and Crohn's disease, is a condition in which the colon is inflamed over a long period of time. People who have had IBD for many years often develop dysplasia. Dysplasia is a term used to describe cells in the lining of the colon or rectum that look abnormal (but not like true cancer cells) when viewed under a microscope. These cells can change into cancer over time.
If you have IBD, your risk of developing colorectal cancer is increased, and you may need to be screened for colorectal cancer starting at an earlier age and on a more frequent basis. Inflammatory bowel disease is different from irritable bowel syndrome (IBS), which does not carry an increased risk for colorectal cancer.

Inflammatory bowel disease is a chronic condition that causes inflammation of the colon and sometimes the small bowel. The increased risk of colon cancer is for people who have had inflammatory bowel disease for long periods of time. These individuals are at a slightly higher risk because more of their colon is involved.

A surveillance colonoscopy is done in people who have had inflammatory bowel disease for long periods of time and, in some ways, it’s a little like trying to find a needle in a haystack. Four biopsies are taken—little samples from the colon—every 10 centimeters, for a total of 30 or more biopsies, looking for hidden microscopic precancerous changes. Anything that looks abnormal is also sampled. That’s the current standard of care for screening or surveillance.

Inflammatory bowel disease is associated with an increased lifetime risk for colorectal cancer.

Over time, the inflammation in the gastrointestinal tract can lead to abnormal changes in the cells called dysplasia, which are a warning sign of cancer.

While the majority of patients with IBD will never develop colorectal cancer, it is important to attend your regular checkups so that your doctor can screen for cancer.

There is an elevated risk of colon cancer with IBD but that risk is lower if patients stay on their medicine and inflammation is reduced. Learn more from Dr. Eugene Yen  on behalf of NorthShore University HealthSystem about the risks of IBD and colon cancer.


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Important: This content reflects information from various individuals and organizations and may offer alternative or opposing points of view. It should not be used for medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. As always, you should consult with your healthcare provider about your specific health needs.