Do IBD Treatments Cause Cancer?

December 1, 2011

New York, NY --  According to the newest data presented at the 2011 Advances in Inflammatory Bowel Diseases Crohn’s & Colitis Foundation’s Clinical & Research Conference, the benefits of treating Inflammatory Bowel Disease (IBD) with the latest therapies outweigh the slightly increased risk associated with cancer.

 “One of the most common concerns patients have about anti-TNF drugs and other immune suppressant medications is if they cause cancer,” said Corey A. Siegel, MD, MS,  Co-chair of the Crohn’s & Colitis Foundation of America’s Professional Education Committee and Assistant Professor of Medicine at Dartmouth,  “therefore, we need to educate them that failure to effectively treat IBD is  riskier than the a slightly elevated risk of certain cancers.”

Both anti-TNF drugs and other immune suppressant medications such as azathioprine and 6-MP are very effective therapies for the treatment of Crohn's disease and ulcerative colitis. Some patients need only one of these medications, while others require a combination of medications to keep their disease under control.

These medications have helped improve the lives of many patients and saved them from surgery and years of steroid use.  However, these advances do come with a tradeoff of a very small increased risk of developing lymphoma (lymph node cancer). For perspective, the average person’s risk of cancer is 2-3 in 10,000, whereas a patient being treated for IBD with these immune suppressant medications has a risk of 6-9 in 10,000.

Until recently , physicians would reserve the more high-powered medications until the milder medications failed and patients were dependent on steroids to keep their disease under control. “A very important finding in the last five or so years,” said Dr. Siegel, “is that if we reserve the strongest medications until patients are very sick, we may have missed our window of opportunity to prevent serious complications.  If we treat them early on with these drugs – before they get very sick – we might prevent the disease from becoming severe.  This understanding has really flipped our treatment paradigm.”

With the finding that the occurrence of cancer is far lower than initially thought, this new approach to treatment is gaining acceptance and hopefully will lead to a better quality of life for patents with IBD.

For more information about this topic, watch the “Balancing the Risks and Benefits of Treatment in Inflammatory Bowel Diseases” webinar with Dr. Siegel.

Crohn's & Colitis Foundation

The Crohn's & Colitis Foundation's mission is to cure Crohn's disease and ulcerative colitis, and to improve the quality of life of children and adults affected by these diseases. The Foundation ranks third among leading health non-profits in the percentage of expense devoted to research toward a cure, with more than 80 cents of every dollar the Foundation spends going to mission-critical programs. The Foundation consistently meets the standards of organizations that monitor charities, including the Better Business Bureau's Wise Giving Alliance ( and the American Institute of Philanthropy (

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