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IBS, IBD, Colitis and Colon Cancer: Who is at Risk?

IBS, IBD, Colitis and Colon Cancer: Who is at Risk?

Mar 4, 2022

Inflammation, bleeding, pain or discomfort in the abdominal region are all common symptoms associated with diseases and disorders of the colon— but can they lead to colon cancer? You might be surprised. 

What is irritable bowel syndrome (IBS)? 

Irritable bowel syndrome is a prevalent disorder that presents a range of varying symptoms, including abdominal pain, bloating, gas, cramping, and diarrhea or constipation, or sometimes both. You may also notice a change in the appearance or frequency of your bowel movements. Though typically not severe, symptoms often persist over an extended period of time. 

Does IBS increase your risk for colon cancer?

“The answer is no. IBS is a very common chronic disorder and can be quite uncomfortable for some people,” said Peter Senatore Jr., M.D., Rectal Cancer Program Director at Inspira Health. “The good news is that IBS does not affect your risk of developing colon cancer, no matter how long you’ve been ill.”

What is inflammatory bowel disease (IBD)?

Inflammatory bowel disease includes conditions such as ulcerative colitis and Crohn’s colitis, and it occurs when the large intestine becomes—and remains—inflamed. Crohn’s colitis can affect any part of the digestive tract, from the mouth to the anus, whereas ulcerative colitis only impacts the colon or rectum. 

Does IBD increase your risk for colon cancer?

Regardless of the type of colitis, this type of sustained inflammation can cause lasting damage to sensitive tissues, causing pain, bloating, bowel issues and bleeding. If left untreated, IBD can create complications like dysplasia, which results in the growth of abnormal cells in the colon or rectum. Over time, these abnormal cells can mutate into cancer. 

“Your risk of developing colon cancer depends on a few factors, such as the type of inflammatory disease you have, how long you’ve had it and how much of your large intestine is affected,” said Dr. Senatore. “Research shows that your cancer risk doesn’t increase until you’ve had IBD for at least eight years.”

Take charge of your health

Because the risk of cancer is higher among patients with Crohn’s disease or ulcerative colitis, most doctors recommend cancer screening once every year to once every three years. When ulcerative colitis is confined to the lower colon or rectum, a minimally invasive test called a sigmoidoscopy will often suffice in these cases. Crohn’s disease or ulcerative colitis involving the entire colon presents a higher cancer risk, so most doctors will perform a routine colonoscopy to detect polyps or tumors. During both of these types of screenings, doctors can remove small growths and collect tissue samples for further testing.

“If you experience new or persistent symptoms, it’s important to schedule an appointment with your doctor,” said Dr. Senatore. “Whether you have a known condition or not, the American Cancer Society recommends men and women with average risk to begin routine screening for colorectal cancers when they turn 45 years old.”

Click to learn about colorectal cancer and colorectal cancer screening

Inspira Health is a high reliability organization (HRO), which means safety is the top priority for patients and staff. To make an appointment, call 1-800-INSPIRA.

Topics: Colorectal Cancer, Gastroenterology