Bringing to Light the Risk of Colorectal Cancer among Crohn’s & Ulcerative Colitis Patients


Colorectal Cancer and Risk Factors

Patients with ulcerative colitis or Crohn's disease involving the colon (also known as Crohn's colitis) are at higher risk for developing colorectal cancer than the general population. The risk begins to increase once a patient has had disease symptoms for 8-10 years. Inflammation of the colon can cause continuous turnover of cells in the intestinal lining, increasing the risk of irregularities that may lead to colon cancer. Although the vast majority of people with Crohn's disease or ulcerative colitis will never develop colorectal cancer, it is highly treatable when found early!

Risk factors of colorectal cancer include:

  • Eight to 10-year history of Crohn's disease or ulcerative colitis
  • Extent and severity of colon inflammation
  • Primary sclerosing cholangitis (bile duct inflammation/ scarring)
  • Appearance of dyslplasia (changes in cells that are precursors of cancer) of the colon or rectum
  • Family history of colorectal cancer

Prevention is Key

There are steps that patients can take in reducing their risk for developing colorectal cancer. Talk to your doctor about:

1. SCREENING RECOMMENDATIONS: Regular examination with a colonoscopy can find pre-cancerous tissue and early cancers when they are still treatable. It is recommneded that patients get a colonoscopy every 1 to 2 years especially if they have had symptoms for 8 years. Finding colorectal cancer is easiest when Crohn's disease or ulcerative colitis inflammation are controlled and when a good bowel preparation has been done.


  • See your gastroenterologist at least once per year.
  • Keep a list of symptoms or concerns and discuss these with your doctor at clinic visits.
  • Take your Crohn's disease and ulcerative colitis medications to keep your colon inflammation well-controlled. Continue your medications, even when feeling well.
  • Notify your doctor if a family member develops colorectal cancer
  • Exercise and eat a healthy diet

Latest advances in surveillance

There are several tools that can be used during a colonoscopy that aim to improve the quality of surveillance and help identify cancer or precancerous lesions in the colon. High definition colonocopy, scopes, processors, and screens may be available to help increase the resolution of images during colonoscopy procedures. One tool is known as chromoendoscopy. This procedure uses a blue dye that is sprayed over the lining of the colon to help detect cancerous areas. Talk to your doctor to see if surveillance using chromoendoscopy is right for you.

To read more about studies on surveillance with chromoendoscopy, view the SCENIC guidelines available at

Additional resources to enhance your knowledge

This educational material is supported by the Maxine and Jack Zarrow Family Foundation. Additional support is provided through the Crohn's & Colitis Foundation's annual giving programs and donors.

A special thank you to the patients, caregivers, and medical professionals on our Patient and Professional Educational Advisory Committee for their contributions to this resource.

For further information, call Crohn's & Colitis Foundation's IBD Help Center: 888.MY.GUT.PAIN (888.694.8872).

The Crohn's & Colitis Foundation provides information for educational purposes only. We encourage you to review this educational material with your health care professional. The Foundation does not provide medical or other health care opinions or services. The inclusion of another organization's resources or referral to another organization does not represent an endorsement of a particular individual, group, company or product.

About this resource

Published: February 26, 2016

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