Ulcerative Colitis and Bowel Cancer

If you have ulcerative colitis, there are some important facts you should know about your bowel cancer risk.

The Risk of Bowel Cancer

People with ulcerative colitis have a higher than usual risk of developing colon or bowel cancer. The risk is highest when your condition is severe, it affects a large part of your colon or you‘ve had ulcerative colitis for a long time. The risk may also be increased if your symptoms aren’t being managed by ulcerative colitis treatment. However, the chances of developing breast cancer are still low. Most people with ulcerative colitis won’t ever have bowel or colon cancer.

Signs of Bowel Cancer

In addition to raising the risk, having ulcerative colitis can also make it more difficult to spot the signs of bowel cancer, as they can be similar to your usual symptoms. Common symptoms of both conditions can include abdominal pain, diarrhoea and blood in your stools. It is important to be aware of your symptoms and how they change so that you can alert your doctor to anything unusual. You should also have regular screenings for bowel cancer to ensure that any problems are detected quickly even if you haven’t noticed any symptoms.

Screening for Bowel Cancer

Bowel cancer screening usually involves a colonoscopy, which is a procedure in which a flexible camera is inserted into your rectum. The doctor will examine the bowel lining for any abnormalities that could be caused by cancer. Most people who are undergoing ulcerative colitis treatment will need screening at least every five years, but sometimes it needs to be performed every year. You will usually be invited for your first check up about ten years after your diagnosis and then screened regularly. The frequency of screening will depend on your age, medical history and the severity of your ulcerative colitis.

Reducing the Risk of Bowel Cancer

In addition to having regular screening, you can also reduce the risk of bowel cancer by making some simple lifestyle changes:

  • Eat a balanced diet that includes plenty of fruit and vegetables
  • Limit your alcohol intake
  • Don’t smoke
  • Get regular exercise
  • Maintain a healthy weight
  • Keep taking your ulcerative colitis treatment

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