Inflammatory Bowel Disease and Cancer Risk

Cancer risk can be impacted by a number of things, including family history, lifestyle choices and pre-existing health conditions like inflammatory bowel disease (IBD).

IBD encompasses two disorders: ulcerative colitis, which affects the large intestine, and Crohn’s Disease, which can affect various areas of the digestive tract. Both disorders result in repetitive cycles of pain, nausea or diarrhea and constipation.

However, IBD should not be confused with irritable bowel syndrome (IBS). “Irritable bowel syndrome is characterized by diarrhea, pain and constipation,” says Joanna Groden, PhD, professor at the OSUCCC – James. “Inflammatory bowel disease can have some of the same symptoms, but we differentiate them diagnostically using biopsies of the intestine.”

IBS is also treated differently from IBD. But most importantly, IBD is characterized by an increased risk of colorectal cancer over time, while IBS has not been linked to an increased risk of cancer.

But why? Researchers believe that the increased risk of colorectal cancer is most likely due to white blood cells that come into the local environment of the intestine. “There, they act to cause an inflammation or an ulceration or soreness in the intestinal lining,” Groden explains. “The repair of the intestinal lining then occurs with changes in the DNA in cells of the lining. Those changes, called mutations, make that area of the bowel more likely to form a tumor or become cancerous with time.

“Fortunately, not all those with IBD will get cancer,” says Groden.

Researchers like Groden at the OSUCCC – James are studying ways to reduce cancer risk in individuals with IBD prevent. “We hope that we’ll be able to translate what we do in the laboratory into specific drugs that then would be applicable first in clinical trials and ultimately in people who are affected by inflammatory bowel disease,” she says.

To learn more about the relationship between IBD and colorectal cancer, watch this week’s segment of Toward a Cancer-Free World or check out the latest edition of Frontiers.