Understanding Crohn’s disease: a risk factor for colorectal cancer
Crohn’s disease is a chronic (long-term) inflammatory disease that can affect any part of the gastrointestinal tract, including the mouth, throat, esophagus, stomach, small intestine, large intestine, rectum, and anus, though it usually targets the end of the small intestine or the colon (large intestine). Though experts are not certain of the exact cause of Crohn’s disease, research has suggested that it could be related to the balance of good and bad bacteria in the gut microbiome. Crohn’s disease is associated with a reduction in microbial diversity (fewer distinct microbial types) which has been implicated in the development of the disease.
How common is Crohn’s disease?
About 135,000 Canadians live with Crohn’s disease, which affects people of all ages. Symptoms usually begin in childhood or early adulthood. Common symptoms include:
•Diarrhea, which may arise suddenly
•Stomach aches and cramps (abdominal pain)
•Blood in the stool
Connection to colorectal cancer
Crohn’s disease is an autoimmune process (a condition in which the body’s immune system attacks and destroys body tissue that it mistakes for foreign matter) associated with an increased risk of developing colorectal cancer. The long-term injury to the gastrointestinal tract causes the inflamed areas to be in a constant state of repair and inflammation. This appears to be an important factor in carcinogenesis (the development of cancer) as it creates a microenvironment that is suitable for the initiation and development of tumour cells – the constant renewal of damaged cells means that an error (mutation) in the replaced cells can become more likely to occur, resulting in cancer.
Management of Crohn’s disease
While there is no cure for Crohn’s disease, the chronic inflammation can be controlled with medication. Furthermore, surveillance for individuals living with the disease includes regular screening exams. If you have had Crohn’s disease for 8 years or more, a colonoscopy is recommended every 1-2 years.
Be sure to seek medical attention if you notice any gastrointestinal symptoms as soon as possible. With inflammatory bowel disease, the earlier you receive a diagnosis, the sooner symptoms can be controlled, inflammation can be minimized, and colorectal cancer risk is reduced.