Find Information About:

Drugs & Supplements

Get information and reviews on prescription drugs, over-the-counter medications, vitamins, and supplements. Search by name or medical condition.

Pill Identifier

Pill Identifier

Having trouble identifying your pills?

Enter the shape, color, or imprint of your prescription or OTC drug. Our pill identification tool will display pictures that you can compare to your pill.

Get Started

My Medicine

Save your medicine, check interactions, sign up for FDA alerts, create family profiles and more.

Get Started

WebMD Health Experts and Community

Talk to health experts and other people like you in WebMD's Communities. It's a safe forum where you can create or participate in support groups and discussions about health topics that interest you.

  • Second Opinion

    Second Opinion

    Read expert perspectives on popular health topics.

  • Community


    Connect with people like you, and get expert guidance on living a healthy life.

Got a health question? Get answers provided by leading organizations, doctors, and experts.

Get Answers

Sign up to receive WebMD's award-winning content delivered to your inbox.

Sign Up

Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS) Health Center

Font Size

Irritable Bowel Syndrome: Many False Fears

Surveys Show Many Patients Mistakenly Think IBS Leads to Cancer
WebMD Health News
Reviewed by Louise Chang, MD

Oct. 31, 2005 -- New research shows that many people with irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) mistakenly think that IBS can lead to digestive diseases including colon cancer.

IBS hasn't been shown to lead to any serious diseases, including cancer, according to the National Institutes of Health (NIH).

Some IBS patients don't know that, according to two new studies.

The studies come from Brian Lacy, MD, PhD, of New Hampshire's Dartmouth-Hitchcock Medical Center and Albena Halpert, MD, of Boston Medical Center.

The findings were presented at the American College of Gastroenterology's annual scientific meeting.

About IBS

IBS is a disorder that interferes with the normal working of the colon (large intestine). Symptoms can include abdominal pain, bloating, constipation, and diarrhea.

Here's what the NIH says about IBS:

"One in five Americans has IBS, making it one of the most common disorders diagnosed by doctors. It occurs more often in women than in men, and it usually begins around age 20.

"IBS causes a great deal of discomfort and distress, but it does not permanently harm the intestines and does not lead to intestinal bleeding or to any serious disease such as cancer.

"Most people can control their symptoms with diet, stress management, and medications prescribed by their physician. But for some people, IBS can be disabling. They may be unable to work, go to social events, or travel even short distances."

False Fears

Both studies surveyed IBS patients. Most patients were middle-aged women who had had IBS for an average of 14 years.

Lacy's study included 261 IBS patients. More than one in five said they thought that IBS raises the odds of colon cancer.

In addition, about 30% said they thought IBS made inflammatory bowel diseases (which include ulcerative colitis and Crohn's disease) more likely.

Halpert's study also showed misconceptions about health risks posed by IBS.

Results from Halpert's surveys of 200 IBS patients include:

  • 18% thought IBS could lead to colitis.
  • 17% thought IBS could result in malnutrition.
  • 14% thought IBS could lead to cancer.

Patients' Views on Causes of IBS

Patients in Lacy's study were asked to identify what they consider the most frequent causes of IBS.

  • More than eight in 10 blamed dietary factors.
  • Almost nine in 10 cited anxiety.
  • More than two-thirds noted depression.

Stress, emotions, and diet have all been associated with worsening of IBS symptoms. But the exact cause of IBS isn't yet known.

Today on WebMD

filling glass of water from faucet
Prevention strategies to try.
stomach ache
From symptoms to treatments.
Causes, symptoms, and treatments.
worried mature woman
Are they related?
IBS Trigger Foods
Supplements for IBS What Works
IBS Symptoms Quiz
digestive health
gluten free diet
digestive myths
what causes diarrhea
top foods for probiotics