Does IBD Raise Kids' Cancer Risk?

B.S. Dietetics, Dietitian, Health Professional

Cancer risk has long been an issue of concern for people with inflammatory bowel disease (IBD). When you have a child with IBD, the prospect of cancer can become even more concerning.

What are the facts?

Colon cancer is more common among people with ulcerative colitis and
appears to develop in up to 5 percent of people who have had active disease for ten years or more. After 10 years, risk among IBD patients goes up from .5 percent to one percent annually. But it is important to note that 90 percent of people with IBD never go on to develop cancer.

How do we lower the risk?

Reducing the risk of cancer in patients with IBD has more to do with keeping the IBD under control and the inflammation low. That means keeping appointments with your gastroenterologist, taking medications as needed, and following a healthy lifestyle that limits overall cancer risk. Children face an increased risk for cancer later in life, probably because they’ll have lived with the disease for a longer period of time. So be sure to discuss the risks with your child’s gastroenterologist and discuss if screening tests are needed and how frequently they should be done.

Symptoms to take seriously

There are many symptoms that you will want to watch for in order to catch cancer early. Some of the signs can include:

  • Changes in bowel habits
  • Inability to empty the bowels all the way
  • Narrow stools
  • Nausea and vomiting
  • Fatigue
  • Gas pain and cramping
  • Bright red or dark stools, blood in the stools

You should have an open dialogue with your child so that he or she knows what is normal and lets you know if something might be wrong. Once you get past the potty-training stage with children they often are embarrassed to discuss these types of symptoms. But if you talk about them frequently, when no other people are around to cause embarrassment, then you are more likely to get honest answers when they are most important.

While cancer risk is relatively low, it’s still good to be aware of what to look for and when to notify the doctor.

See more helpful articles:

Diagnosing IBD in Children

IBD: Keeping Up with Doctor Appointments — Even When You are Well

Nighttime Reflux in Infants: Tips for Parents