Colorectal cancer is the third most common cancer in Canadian men and women and affects over 20,000 people annually. On a global scale, Ontario has the highest rate of this type of cancer in the world. The good news is that if detected early, there is a 90% chance that this type of cancer can be cured. In short, early detection is crucial to survival.
What has this got to do with IBD? People with IBD have an increased chance of developing colorectal cancer, correlating with the length of time they have had the disease.
Studies tell us that the probability of a person developing colorectal cancer after having IBD for 10 years is 2%. After that, risk continues to rise and is as high as 30% after 30 years. In other words, as age increases, so does risk.
But it is also true that everyone in the general population has an increased risk of developing colorectal cancer as aging occurs. In fact, the Colorectal Cancer Association of Canada (CCAC) recommends that everyone over the age of 50 should be screened for colon cancer. The CCAC also states that if you have a family history of the disease, screening should begin at an earlier age.
Regular colorectal screening is absolutely vital in the early detection of cancer. Again, let us stress that if detected early, colorectal cancer responds very well to treatment.
Screening is particularly important for those with IBD, because the early warning signs of cancer are similar to the symptoms of Crohn’s disease and ulcerative colitis. While people in the general population might become frightened if they detect blood in their stool, changes in their bowel habits, alternating diarrhea and constipation, persistent abdominal bloating and cramps, those with IBD would not regard these symptoms as uncommon or alarming.
What is “regular screening”? If a person has suffered from large bowel Crohn’s disease or ulcerative colitis for more than 10 years, annual or bi-annual colonoscopy is recommended. Tests such as a barium enema, fecal occult blood sampling and flexible sigmoidoscopy are not considered adequate because biopsy samples are not taken during these tests.
Even with regular screening, detection of cancer can be difficult in IBD patients. In spite of that, it is better for you to take the opportunity to be tested than to sit back and hope that all is well. Knowledge is essential in managing health.
It is important for people with IBD to manage the risks associated with their disease. Colorectal cancer poses a higher risk for those who have suffered from Crohn’s disease or ulcerative colitis for more than 10 years. The message is clear, “Be proactive – be informed – get screened”.