If you suffer from inflammatory bowel disease (IBD) you may be at risk for colorectal cancer (CRC). While there are many factors that play into a cancer diagnosis, if you have IBD you need to understand the details surrounding colorectal cancer. It’s time to take preventative measures before it’s too late.
The Basics of IBD
Inflammatory bowel disease includes two disorders of the digestive tract — ulcerative colitis (UC) and Crohn’s disease. Symptoms of IBD range from diarrhea, constipation, fever, weight loss, bloody stool, abdominal pain, or any combination of these. The severity and frequency of symptoms also vary. When it comes to treating IBD, doctors strive to help their patients reach a period of remission where the symptoms cease for a period of time. Unfortunately, IBD is a chronic disease, meaning symptoms can be alleviated, but the disease will never go away. While the exact cause is unknown, stress and diet tend to aggravate symptoms.
The Basics of CRC
Colorectal cancer is the umbrella term for cancer found in either the colon or rectum. CRC is extremely difficult to detect in the early stages as symptoms are rarely present. When symptoms such as bloody stool, bleeding rectum, or sudden changes in bowel movements do arise, it usually indicates a late – and sometimes fatal – stage of cancer. In fact, it is the second leading cause of cancer deaths in the U.S. and the third most common type of cancer found in both men and women. The best way to detect colorectal cancer is through regular colonoscopy screening. Colonoscopies will show the development of polyps–precancerous growths in the intestine. Before cancer strikes, your GI doctor can remove the polyps.
The Link Between IBD and CRC
Colorectal cancer accounts for 15 percent of deaths associated with IBD. Those with IBD are still at risk of a CRC diagnosis even when they are in a period of remission. Genetic changes in people with IBD seem to be a direct link to colorectal cancer. In patients with ulcerative colitis, there appears to be a trend of changing DNA and the loss of heterozygosity (a fancy way of saying gene copies within a cell are altered). Doctors have also noted gene variants and unique tumor growths are common in colorectal cancer patients who also have UC. Both the gene mutations and tumors promote chronic inflammation and directly link to the presence of cancer.
Risk Factors for IBD-associated CRC
The longer you have suffered from IBD, the more likely you are to develop colorectal cancer. Along the same vein, the earlier you are diagnosed with IBD, the greater your risk for CRC. The severity of inflammation also raises your risk as it initiates the formation of cancer cells. The extent of ulcerative colitis, the presence of a rare liver complication (sclerosing cholangitis), and a family history of colorectal cancer all increase your risk.
Preventing a CRC Diagnosis
Managing your symptoms of IBD and reducing inflammation as much as possible will help reduce your risk of CRC. Exercising regularly is key to living a healthy lifestyle and limiting IBD flare-ups. Consuming a healthy diet of fresh fruits, vegetables, and whole grains will fill your body with the vitamins and nutrients it requires. Both diet and exercise will help you maintain a healthy weight — a key element in cancer prevention. You can also reduce your risk of cancer by scheduling regular colonoscopy screenings in order to detect precancerous cells early. As a patient with IBD, it’s important to consistently take your medications and keep appointments with your GI specialist.
It is possible to reduce your risk of colorectal cancer even if you have IBD. Schedule an appointment with your healthcare provider today. Your healthcare provider will go over your risks, assess the severity of IBD, and help you take preventative measures. IBD changes the age recommendations and frequency of colon screenings, we recommend you speak to your healthcare provider about when you should begin scheduling your colonoscopy.
Sameer Islam, MD is a board-certified Gastroenterologist and Hepatologist practicing at Southwest Gastroenterology in Lubbock, Texas. For an appointment feel free to contact his office at 806-761-0747. You can get more information from his webpage (www.sameerislam.com) where you can also subscribe to his monthly newsletter. He also has a weekly Facebook Live show on Tuesday, 7:30 PM CST.