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  • Ellie Weiser

Inflammatory Bowel Disease and Colorectal Cancer

Updated: Oct 10, 2021

With my history as a GI and infusion nurse, this topic is near and dear to me as I have worked with so many patients suffering from this disease. With nearly 1.6 million Americans currently suffering from inflammatory bowel disease, this is an important topic to discuss to emphasize the importance of prompt diagnosis and treatment.

Individuals with inflammatory bowel disease (IBD) can suffer from a whole host of health issues. A big concern for those diagnosed with inflammatory bowel disease is the development of colorectal cancer (CRC). Sticking to treatment and knowing the signs are the first steps to reducing the risk associated with this type of cancer.

However, many times inflammatory bowel disease goes undiagnosed for long periods of time and often by the time the patient is correctly diagnosed, it can be too late.

What is Inflammatory Bowel Disease?

Inflammatory Bowel Disease is an autoimmune condition which causes ongoing inflammation of all or part of the digestive tract.

IBD symptoms can include:

  • Diarrhea

  • Fever

  • Fatigue

  • Abdominal pain

  • Blood in the stool

  • Unintended weight loss.

There is currently no cure for IBD, yet many treatments exist to keep symptoms at bay.

When inflammatory bowel disease is left untreated, it can cause a whole host of systemic health issues ranging from joint pain to visual problems. Untreated inflammation in the bowel can lead to malnutrition, among other issues, and if left untreated for extended periods of time, colon cancer.

Link between IBD and CRC:

Current research suggests that there are genetic components that predisposes IBD patients to CRC, while untreated inflammation in the colon can also lead to higher incidences of colorectal cancer.

While CRC accounts for 1% to 2% of all cancers, it is a serious complication of IBD that accounts for around 15% of IBD deaths.

Signs and Symptoms of CRC:

  • Changes in normal bowel movement

  • Blood in stool

  • Bleeding from rectum

Decreasing Risk of CRC:

While colon cancer is a great risk to those suffering from inflammatory bowel disease, there are ways to decrease this risk.

  • Schedule regular check ups with your gastroenterologist

  • Exercise

  • Maintaining a healthy diet

  • Remaining on medications regardless of remission periods

  • Taking medications to control the inflammation

Regular colonoscopies are important as well for early detection of inflammatory level and abnormally growing cells. Typically colonoscopies are recommended every 1-2 years depending on level of inflammation.

Because the risk of developing CRC is greater in those who have IBD with an associated worse outcome, it is important for patients and physicians to follow the surveillance guidelines for early detection and immediate treatment.

Bottom line, it is better to seek treatment early if you have developed any of the above CRC symptoms. It is also important to be persistent if you are not getting the answers you need.

If you have a case involving the incorrect diagnosis of inflammatory bowel disease or incorrect treatment protocol, contact Weiser Nurse Consulting. We can help review the case and identify possible breaches in standard of care.

Keller, D.S, Windsor, A., Cohen, R. & Chand, M. (2018). Colorectal Cancer in Inflammatory Bowel Disease: Review of the Evidence. Techniques in Coloproctology, 23(3), 1-13.

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