Inflammatory Bowel Disease (IBD) & Colon Cancer

Medically reviewed by: Gary H. Hoffman, MD

Possible DNA link between IBD, Crohn's disease and colorectal cancer for patients in Los AngelesPatients with IBD, like Crohn’s disease or ulcerative colitis are at an increased risk of developing colorectal cancer. The connection between these conditions has been established for years, though researchers still debate the exact cause of the comorbidity.

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Colon Cancer Risk: Is it written in Your DNA?

A team of researchers at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology has recently discovered a potential link between inflammation and colon cancer that is in the DNA of the diseased patient. More specifically, it is possible that certain types and degrees of inflammation may cause damage to the DNA, leading to cell mutation and eventually cancer.

The chronic bowel inflammation that marks IBD causes destruction of bacteria and enzymes that are responsible for repairing damage in the intestines. These three enzymes include AAG, ALKBH3 and ALKBH3. When at least one of these enzymes is present, tissue is able to be repaired as normal. A lack of all three enzymes resulted in the inability to repair the damaged tissue, a factor that is understood to play a large role in the development of colon cancer.

Since colon cancer is the second leading cause of cancer related mortalities in the U.S and an increasing number of inflammatory bowel disease patients are likely to develop the disease the longer they live with the disease, any insight into the link between IBD and colon cancer is highly regarded. This research suggests a potential for identifying colon cancer risk before the disease begins to develop by detecting DNA changes prior to the onset of polyps or precancerous growths in the intestinal lining.

Unfortunately, such advances are still years away. While this study reveals an exciting potential link between the conditions, it was only conducted on mice and has not yet been confirmed in IBD or colon cancer patients. Researchers hope that insight like this will eventually decrease the rate of mortality among IBD patients, but in the meantime it stands as a reminder to keep up with your cancer screenings and other preventative treatment measures.

While the risk of developing colorectal cancer is higher for IBD patients, having IBD is not synonymous with having a diagnosis of colon or rectal cancers. Being aware of your risk for colon cancer and taking the right steps for preventing the disease by avoiding tobacco, eating a healthy diet and staying in close contact with your colorectal specialist can help you maintain control of your health.

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