The risk of developing colorectal cancer has been compared in two identically selected cohorts of patients with extensive Crohn's colitis (n = 125) and extensive ulcerative colitis (n = 486). In both groups the effects of selection bias have been reduced wherever possible. There was an 18-fold increase in the risk of developing colorectal cancer in extensive Crohn's colitis and a 19-fold increase in risk in extensive ulcerative colitis when compared with the general population, matched for age, sex, and years at risk. The absolute cumulative frequency of risk for developing colorectal cancer in extensive colitis was 8% at 22 years from onset of symptoms in the Crohn's disease group and 7% at 20 years from onset in the ulcerative colitis group. The relative risk of colorectal cancer was increased in both ulcerative colitis and Crohn's disease among those patients whose colitis started before the age of 25 years. Whether the absolute risk is greater in the younger age group or merely reflects that the expected number of carcinomas increases with age is uncertain. While there is an increased risk of developing colorectal cancer in extensive colitis the number of patients with Crohn's disease who actually develop colorectal cancer is small because many patients with extensive Crohn's colitis undergo colectomy early in the course of their disease to relieve persistent symptoms unresponsive to medical treatment.
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