Diagnosis and management of dysplasia in patients with inflammatory bowel diseases

Gastroenterology. 2004 May;126(6):1634-48. doi: 10.1053/j.gastro.2004.03.025.


Patients with ulcerative colitis and Crohn's colitis face an increased lifetime risk of developing colorectal cancer. Factors associated with increased risk include long duration of colitis, extensive colonic involvement, primary sclerosing cholangitis, a family history of colorectal cancer, and, according to some studies, early disease onset and more severely active inflammation. Although prophylactic proctocolectomy can essentially eliminate the risk of cancer, most patients and their physicians opt instead for a lifelong program of surveillance. This entails regular medical follow-up, management with antiinflammatory and putative chemopreventive agents, and periodic colonoscopic examinations combined with extensive biopsy sampling throughout the colon. The main objective of regular colonoscopy is to detect neoplasia at a surgically curative and preferably preinvasive stage, i.e., dysplasia. An initial screening colonoscopy should be performed 7-8 years from disease onset or immediately in patients with primary sclerosing cholangitis. Surveillance should then continue annually or biennially so long as no dysplasia is found or suspected. Biopsy specimens are graded pathologically as negative, indefinite for dysplasia, low-grade dysplasia, high-grade dysplasia, or invasive cancer. The diagnosis and grading of dysplasia can be very challenging and should be confirmed by an expert pathologist whenever intervention or a change in management is contemplated. If 1 or more biopsy specimens are indefinite for dysplasia, colonoscopy intervals should be reduced. A patient with low- or high-grade dysplasia found in a discrete adenoma-like polyp, but nowhere else, can be safely managed with polypectomy and accelerated surveillance. However, dysplasia of any grade found in an endoscopically nonresectable polyp and high-grade dysplasia found in flat mucosa are both strong indications for proctocolectomy. Evidence further suggests that the same may be true even of low-grade dysplasia in flat mucosa. Chromoendoscopy holds promise for facilitating the endoscopic detection of neoplasia. The clinical application of newer molecular methods to detect neoplasia, particularly gene microarrays and stool DNA testing, also deserve further study.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Anti-Inflammatory Agents, Non-Steroidal / therapeutic use
  • Colonoscopy / methods
  • Colorectal Neoplasms / diagnosis*
  • Colorectal Neoplasms / genetics
  • Colorectal Neoplasms / pathology
  • Colorectal Neoplasms / therapy
  • Humans
  • Inflammatory Bowel Diseases / diagnosis*
  • Inflammatory Bowel Diseases / genetics
  • Inflammatory Bowel Diseases / pathology
  • Inflammatory Bowel Diseases / therapy
  • Mass Screening / methods
  • Mesalamine / therapeutic use
  • Oligonucleotide Array Sequence Analysis / methods
  • Precancerous Conditions / diagnosis*
  • Precancerous Conditions / genetics
  • Precancerous Conditions / pathology
  • Precancerous Conditions / therapy
  • Risk Factors


  • Anti-Inflammatory Agents, Non-Steroidal
  • Mesalamine