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Inflammatory Bowel Disease Health Center

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IBD May Raise Risk of Pancreatic Cancer

People With Inflammatory Bowel Disease May Be at Increased Risk for Pancreatic Cancer, Study Finds
WebMD Health News
Reviewed by Louise Chang, MD

May 5, 2010 -- People with inflammatory bowel disease -- especially men and those with ulcerative colitis -- may be at increased risk for developing pancreatic cancer, preliminary research suggests.

Up to 1 million Americans have inflammatory bowel disease (IBD); the main types are ulcerative colitis and Crohn's disease. The inner lining of the gastrointestinal tract becomes inflamed and damaged, causing abdominal pain, diarrhea (which may be bloody), weight loss, and rectal bleeding.

A few years ago, University of Utah researchers say they noticed that pancreatic cancer seemed to be developing at higher-than-normal rates in IBD patients and their family members.

To see if there was an association, the researchers studied 2,877 adults treated for IBD at the University of Utah Health System from January 1996 to December 2006. Their records were then compared with information from the Utah Cancer Registry and the Utah Population Database.

That way, they could figure out the rate of pancreatic cancer in the general population as well as the rate of pancreatic cancer in people with IBD and compare the two.

"We had striking and unexpected results," says Jason Schwartz, MD, assistant professor of surgery at the University of Utah.

"We thought there would be an association, but we were surprised at the strength of the association," he tells WebMD.

IBD Linked to Pancreatic Cancer: Study Results

Compared with what would be expected in the general population:

  • People with IBD had a 3.36-fold higher risk of pancreatic cancer.
  • People with ulcerative colitis had a 4.85-fold higher risk of pancreatic cancer.
  • Men with IBD had a 6.22-fold higher risk of pancreatic cancer.
  • Women with IBD did not appear to be at increased risk of pancreatic cancer.

There did not appear to be an association between Crohn's disease and pancreatic cancer.

The findings were presented at Digestive Disease Week 2010 in New Orleans.

IBD Linked to Pancreatic Cancer: Confirmation Needed

Schwartz says that theoretically, repeated bouts of inflammation in the intestinal tract have the potential to cause cancer.

Still, the study does not prove cause and effect. And the results need to be confirmed and upheld in a national study, he says.

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